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Sexual and Marital metaphors in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel$

Sharon Moughtin-Mumby

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199239085

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199239085.001.0001

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Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4

Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4

(p.80) 2 Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4
Sexual and Marital metaphors in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel

Sharon Moughtin‐Mumby

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the sexual and marital metaphorical language in Jeremiah 2: 1-4: 4. It argues that Jeremiah 2: 1-4: 4 highlights the inadequacy of reading prophetic sexual and marital metaphors and similes as straightforward allusions to a marriage relationship between YHWH and the nation/city. This prophetic poetry underscores just how diverse and varied sexual and marital metaphorical language can be and how inadequate is the traditional characterization ‘the marriage metaphor’.

Keywords:   metaphor, sexual language, marital language, metaphorical language, prostitution, marriage

If Hosea 4–14 illustrates the limitations of reading the popular ‘prostitution’ motif in terms of ‘cultic prostitution’, Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 highlights the inadequacy of reading prophetic sexual and marital metaphors and similes as straightforward allusions to a marriage relationship between YHWH and the nation/city. Indeed, this prophetic poetry underscores just how diverse and varied sexual and marital metaphorical language can be and how inadequate is the traditional characterization ‘the marriage metaphor’. Our exploration of Jeremiah will focus on chapters 2: 1–4: 4, as it is here that the concentration of this book's sexual and marital metaphorical language lies,1 and most agree that these verses form a distinct unit.2 Most of the passage is poetic in character, but there are also prose reflections, as is typical in what McKane calls the ‘rolling corpus’ of Jeremiah.3 We will turn to these prose passages later, but for now will concentrate on the poetry of 2: 1–4: 4, with its distinctive use of metaphorical language, repetition, and, above all, incessant rhetorical questions.


Whereas metaphorical language boldly takes centre stage in Hosea 4–14, it is not the single outstanding feature of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4. But if this prophetic poetry does not share Hosea 4–14's concentration of metaphor and simile, its metaphorical language can nevertheless be so daring as to rival even that (p.81) audacious text. This is particularly true of 2: 1–4: 4's sexual and marital metaphors, as we will see, but can also be illustrated by its wider metaphorical language: Judah is a stumbling young camel (2: 23), a choice vine, and ‘stinking weeds’ (2: 21); although she scrubs herself with soap, Judah will never be clean (2: 22). The poetry also has its share of ‘modelling similes’: the people's sword is like a ravening lion (2: 30); Judah is like a desert‐dweller (3: 2); her leaders will be like a shamed thief (2: 26). Indeed, Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 might even briefly show more audacity than Hosea 4–14 in its use of metaphor, rather than simile, to speak of YHWH, ‘fountain of living waters’ in 2: 13. For a deeper appreciation of this prophetic poetry's metaphorical language, however, we must explore further the wider frame in which they appear, with its repetition and insistent rhetorical questions, which combine to present the distinctive portrayal of Judah as ridiculous and absurd.

Repetition in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4

Repeated phrases and motifs pervade Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, but for our purposes the repetition of הלך‎ (‘to walk’) and דרך‎ (‘way’) is of particular interest, deftly introducing the poetry's caricature of Judah as senseless and purposeless.4 The ‘walking’ motif appears no fewer than seven times in chapter 2 alone. In 2: 2, Judah ‘walks after’ YHWH in her ‘bridal days’, and YHWH ‘helps them to walk’ in the wilderness in 2: 6.5 Yet the people are accused of ‘walking after’ worthlessness in 2: 5, uselessness in 2: 8, and the Baals in 2: 23, (p.82) and they even threaten to ‘walk after’ strangers in 2: 25!6 And all of this while YHWH is ‘helping them to walk’ in ‘the way’ (2: 17).7 Judah seems to be doing a lot of walking, apparently after anyone, or anything. Complementing this caricature are the numerous ‘ways’ (דרכים‎) in which Judah ‘walks’. In 2: 17 YHWH helps Judah to walk in ‘his way’, but by 2: 18 the people are on ‘the way’ to Egypt and to Assyria.8 In 2: 33 Judah is once more ‘on her way’ to seek love, while in 3: 2 she sits ‘on the way’ waiting for ‘them’. Then in 3: 13 Judah is accused of ‘scattering her ways to strangers’, while in 3: 21 the sons of Israel are accused of having ‘twisted’ their ‘ways’. Once again, the overriding impression is that Judah is wandering aimlessly, going this way and that down different paths, while refusing to follow the one path she apparently should walk down, that of YHWH. We might even say that this prophetic poetry exposes her ‘waywardness’. This impression is made explicit in 2: 36, where Judah is accused of ‘flitting about’ and ‘doubling her ways’,9 while 2: 23 vividly illustrates the issue: ‘Look at your way in the valley!| Know what you have done!| A hasty young camel, twisting her paths!’ According to Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, Judah is a young she‐camel, unsteady on her feet, careering this way and that, with neither logic nor purpose.10 Through this combination of repetition and (p.83) metaphor, we gain a first taste of this poetry's characteristic portrayal of Judah as senseless, out of control, and quite simply ridiculous.

The wilderness motif weaving through Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 contributes further to this unflattering portrait. Twice in the opening words, YHWH speaks of the wilderness as a place where Judah was reliant upon him. In 2: 2, her ‘bridal days’ are ‘when you walked after me in the wilderness| In a land not sown’ while in 2: 6 wilderness dangers are magnificently recalled. According to this prophetic poetry, it is YHWH who guided the people through a hostile wilderness, bringing them safely to a ‘garden land’ (2: 7). Having established the wilderness as a prompt for Judah's dependence on YHWH, the poetry proceeds to use the motif to expose the irony of Judah's response. In 2: 24, she is a ‘wild ass, accustomed to the wilderness’, while in 3: 2 she is ‘like the desert‐dweller in the wilderness’. Not only does Judah incongruously continue to live in the ‘desert and pit land’ (2: 6) despite having been rescued from there, she has become ‘accustomed’ to, or even ‘an expert with regard to’ (למד‎, 2: 24) that wilderness. The sheer irrationality of such behaviour is underscored in YHWH's words of disbelief, ‘Have I been a wilderness to Israel?| Or a land of deep darkness?| Why do my people say, “We will wander,| We will not come to you anymore?!”’ (2: 31).11 The irony is cutting. YHWH is neither ‘wilderness’ nor ‘deep darkness’ it was he who rescued the people from these in 2: 6. Yet Judah inexplicably remains content to wander/roam/be free there rather than ‘coming to’ YHWH, a charge that complements her indiscriminate ‘walking’ and contradictory ‘ways’. In the words of McKane, ‘If his hand on Israel had been oppressive, her declaration of independence would have been understandable. In the circumstances, however, her resolve to break free of Yahweh and disavow her allegiance is mystifying and inexplicable.’12

(p.84) Rhetorical questions in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4

With 2: 31, we are introduced to Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's characteristic use of rhetorical questions as the ridicule of Judah is taken to another level. Traditionally, the relentless questioning in combination with the appearance of ריב‎, ‘to accuse’ (2: 9, 2: 29), has led many to characterize chapter 2 as a lawsuit or divorce proceedings.13 Jones speaks of ‘a solemn lawsuit, in which Judas is accused as an adulterous woman might be accused, of infidelity’,14 while Holladay alludes to ‘a covenant lawsuit initiated by Yahweh against his people’.15 The problems generated in assuming that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 as a whole revolves around ‘adultery’ will become clear presently. For now, even the passage's characterization as a ‘lawsuit’ is problematic. Carroll notes: ‘An examination of the relevant passages in the light of the supposed pattern will reveal at best a fractured pattern, and, in relation to Jer. 2, a misleading analysis.… It is unnecessary to reconstruct an imaginary courtroom procedure in order to provide a social setting for the rīb metaphor of conflict between Yahweh and Israel.’16 Indeed, DeRoche launches a sustained attack on the evocation of ‘prophetic’ or ‘covenant lawsuits’ wherever ריב‎ appears, arguing for a complete abandonment of the terms.17 In reference to Jeremiah 2: 5–9, he observes, ‘Yahweh contrasts his devotion to his people with their unfaithfulness to him. At the end of the oracle, Yahweh decides to contend (ryb) with Israel, although he does not describe how he will go about it. However, nowhere does he suggest that a third party hear his accusations and render a decision. He proceeds to conduct his grievance against Israel by himself.’18

The observations of DeRoche, Carroll, and countless others joining the protest against the search for ‘lawsuits’ in the prophetic books provide a useful starting point for our own exploration.19 While this poetry is keen to (p.85) present YHWH's angry charges against Judah, in my opinion the characterization of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 as a lawsuit is misleading. For a start, the countless questions ranged against Judah provide no opportunity for a defence.20 As rhetorical questions, by definition they are not asked ‘in order to request information or to invite a reply, but to achieve a greater expressive force than a direct assertion’.21 Certainly, to characterize rhetorical questions simply as aids to evoke a courtroom setting is seriously to underestimate these powerfully persuasive devices, which strive insistently to lure the reader into adopting unexpected assumptions. In the words of Labuschagne, rhetorical questions are ‘[o]ne of the most forceful and effectual ways employed in speech for driving home some idea or conviction.… The hearer is not merely listener: he is forced to frame the expected answer in his mind, and by doing so he actually becomes a co‐expresser of the speaker's conviction.’22 We might say that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's rhetorical questions are the equivalent of Hosea 4–14's ‘tit for tat’ device, working to present a causal link between Judah's behaviour and punishment, amassing in concentration relentlessly to underscore her senselessness.23

Brueggemann and Lundbom draw attention to a particular form of rhetorical question, which Brueggemann dubs the ‘double rhetorical question with h‐'m’ and which Lundbom distinguishes as Jeremiah's ‘signature’ (2: 14, 2: 31, 3: 5).24 Two rhetorical questions are asked, followed by what Lundbom calls ‘a troubling vexation’: ‘This vexation is either about something incongruous that the prophet observes, or else it has to do with the weakened condition of the people facing war and imminent defeat.’25 Brueggemann argues that such ‘double rhetorical questions’ seek to defend ‘conventional wisdom’. He writes: ‘The ground and cause of trouble is not a failure or collapse of conventional wisdom. Rather Israel's acting out of character and (p.86) inconsistently with conventional wisdom has brought the trouble.’26 Such a defence (or even creation) of ‘conventional wisdom’ may certainly be a significant consequence of these rhetorical questions. To my mind, however, Brueggemann does not sufficiently emphasize the latter part of his observation: that it is Judah's failure to act according to commonly accepted wisdom that is the concern of this poetry. Indeed, it appears that the concentration on one particular strain of rhetorical question has drawn attention away from what is conceivably their primary significance. ‘Double rhetorical questions with h‐'m’ number only three amongst a wide variety of rhetorical questions in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, which seem to me to share the common cause of ruthlessly exposing the absurdity and irony pervading Judah's actions.27

In 2: 14 (a ‘double rhetorical question with h‐'m’) YHWH demands, ‘Is Israel a slave? Or is he a home‐born servant?| Why has he become war‐spoils?’ In the wake of the first two questions, the final question stresses that Judah should never have become war‐spoils. Yet her behaviour, running to Egypt and Assyria to form political alliances, suggests that the people nevertheless see themselves in this way, perhaps thereby even creating such a fate for themselves. In this way, the poetry not only strongly critiques Judah's subservience, but simultaneously ridicules her behaviour as incongruous.28 In 2: 5 a solitary rhetorical question combines with the הלך‎ (‘walking’) motif and a word‐play worthy of Hosea 4–14, as YHWH asks, ‘What injustice did your ancestors find in me| That they became distant,| And walked after futility (ההבל‎)| And became futile (ויהבלו‎)?’29 Once again the rhetorical question works within the wider context to demand the assumption that no injustice can be found in YHWH.30 Jeremiah 2: 5 insists that the fathers have rejected Yhwh for no sensible reason whatsoever. Nor does their irrationality end there, for they have inexplicably left YHWH to follow הבל‎ (Qoheleth's vapour‐like ‘vanity’, ‘nothingness’, ‘futility’, ‘worthlessness’). The choice of הבל‎ over YHWH heightens the implausibility of the fathers' actions: why turn away from a just God, for no reason than to walk after ‘futility’? The pointlessness of this decision is underscored by the ‘tit for tat’ word‐play, which maintains that in following ‘futility’ the fathers inevitably themselves became ‘futile’. The sheer audacity of this prophetic poetry is perhaps only (p.87) fully recognized, however, with an appreciation of the word‐play perceived by Bright, who suggests that הבל‎ is used precisely for its echoes of בעל‎ (‘Baal’),31 introducing an implicit polemic against this rival god and exposing the ‘futility’ of his worship.

Like Hosea 4–14, Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 uses intratextuality to gather force for its rhetorical questions, as 2: 13 dramatically sets the stage for one of YHWH's most scathing derisions of Judah in 2: 18. The poetry itself seems to draw attention to 2: 13, preparing its cosmic witnesses in 2: 12 for disbelief at Judah's actions:

  • Be devastated, O heavens, at this!
  • Be horrified! Be utterly desolate/dry!32
  • Oracle of YHWH
  • For my people have committed a double wrong
  • They have forsaken me,
  • Fountain of living water,
  • To hew for themselves cisterns:
  • Broken cisterns that hold no water!
  • (Jeremiah 2: 12–13)
The irrationality (and recklessness) of such behaviour hardly needs elucidation,33 yet its sheer absurdity becomes fully apparent only with 2: 18's contemptuous questions: ‘And now what do you gain from being on the way to Egypt,| To drink the water of the Nile?| And what do you gain from being on the way to Assyria,| To drink the water of the Euphrates?’34 Not only has Judah left a fountain of living, or ‘running’, water to build broken cisterns;35 she is now wandering back and forth searching for water (recalling (p.88) the ‘walking’ and ‘way’ motifs), rather than returning to that still available and abundant source. In the words of Shields, ‘the way in which Israel has gone about making foreign alliances is unnatural or absurd’.36

Rhetorical questions saturate Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4.37 The sheer deviousness of this prophetic poetry, however, can perhaps best be witnessed in 2: 11, where YHWH demands, ‘Has any (other) nation exchanged its gods?| (when they are not gods),| But my people have exchanged their glory for No‐Profit!’38 Jeremiah 2: 11 claims that not only do the people act in direct contradiction to what any other nation might do, they go further in their disregard of ‘acceptable’ behaviour. If other nations would never exchange their gods (however illusory), these people have not only willingly replaced YHWH, ‘their glory’, they have actually traded him for ‘no profit’ (בלוא־יועיל‎), or even ‘uselessness’ (perhaps another jibe at Baal).39 McKane observes, ‘Israel's behaviour is doubly incomprehensible: it is unnatural in that it conflicts with the religious habits of men in general who do not exchange their gods as one would a product in the market place, but who revere them and cling to them, even though they have no reality.’40

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of 2: 11, however, is that the answer presupposed by this rhetorical question is far from reasonable, even if it is demanded by the context. If this question were to be asked genuinely, many might answer in the affirmative (whilst perhaps questioning the validity of the suggestion that other nations might see their gods as ‘non‐gods’). Carroll notes, ‘It is highly improbable that no other social group ever changed its beliefs or gods. That is just the hyperbole of preaching.’41 Indeed, he pointedly observes that this is exactly what Jeremiah itself calls for this particular ‘nation’ to do: ‘to change their baalistic understanding of Yahweh to a different concept of him. In a manner of speaking, this was a change of gods.’42 Within the inexorable logic of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, however, it seems (p.89) that such an assumption can be slipped past many a reader, battered by the incessant series of rhetorical questions. Certainly, McKane seems convinced by 2: 11's rationale. Holladay likewise insists, ‘Trading people like the Cypriots and the tribe of Kedar are masters of barter and exchange, but they certainly do not exchange their own gods for others.’43 Holladay even surrenders to the poetry's portrayal of YHWH's rival, ‘will‐o'‐the‐wisp Baal, who claimed much but brought nothing to the worshiper’.44 It is perhaps here that we can begin to appreciate the power of this poetry's rhetorical questions, as they strive to shape our thoughts, encouraging (or even forcing) acquiescence where there might normally be none.45

Judah's directionless absurdity before the unwavering faithfulness of YHWH presents itself as the major theme of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, weaving through repetition, word‐play, and rhetorical questions.46 This prophetic poetry defends YHWH's actions and Judah's predicament with an argument that is perhaps best summed up by yet another rhetorical question: ‘Have you not done these things to yourself,| Through your leaving YHWH your God| When he was helping you to walk in the way?’ (2: 17). Judah can blame no one for her coming humiliation; her own senseless actions and decisions are the sole cause for her lamentable prospects.47 It is within this wider frame of theodicy through relentless ridicule and inexorable irony that the sexual and marital metaphorical language of Jeremiah appears.


Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 has perhaps suffered more than any other prophetic text from unfavourable comparisons of its sexual and marital metaphorical language with Hosea 1–3. K. M. O'Connor states: ‘Jeremiah did not create this (p.90) [marriage] metaphor, but borrowed it from the prophet Hosea.’48 Galambush repeatedly uses phrases such as ‘Jeremiah expands on Hosea's suggestion’ and ‘the book of Jeremiah makes effective use of the already traditional metaphor of Jerusalem as Yahweh's wife’.49 Clements writes: ‘The language is stark and the imagery has become rather conventional in the wake of the earlier prophecies of Hosea. There is therefore a certain lack of originality about it.’50 Indeed, commentaries habitually read details from Hosea 1–3 into Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4. In reference to Jeremiah 3: 2, Leslie writes: ‘They pursue rituals wherein, as Hosea vividly describes them (Hos. 4: 13b–14), harlotry and cultic prostitution are practiced in the name of religion, both by men and women.… As Hosea had led Jeremiah to see it, “For a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the harlot” (Hos. 4: 12b).’51 Stienstra responds to 2: 6 and 2: 11 (neither of which involve explicit marital or sexual language) with the words, ‘With our knowledge of Hosea, we may safely assume that we have an instance of IDOLATRY IS ADULTERY here. It should have become clear by now, however, that we need knowledge of the marriage metaphor in order to interpret these isolated verses and passages and we may consequently assume that the prophet expected his audience to be thoroughly familiar with it.’52 Such an approach betrays a unwarrantable lack of appreciation for Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's distinctiveness.53 My aim is to provide a taste of this poetry's unique sexual and marital metaphorical language, illustrating the way in which it intertwines with its relentless rhetorical questions and the pervasive theme of Judah's absurdity.

The rhetorical question of 2: 32 provides a convenient starting point: ‘Does a virgin forget her ornament?| Or a bride her sashes?| But my people have forgotten me,| Days without number!’ It has come as a surprise to many that 2: 32 does not speak of a bride and groom to describe the relationship between Judah and YHWH. Indeed, some do not even notice that this is not the force of 2: 32. Boadt writes, ‘Yahweh had taken Israel as such a bride and yet she has (p.91) simply turned her back on him’,54 while Leslie observes, ‘Although it is contrary to nature for a bride to forget her wedding gown and adornments, Israel, the Lord's bride has done yet worse. Now for many a day she has forgotten her Lord.’55 Yet, as Holladay insists, ‘The verse does not say, “Can a virgin forget her fiancé, a bride her bridegroom?” This is the comparison one would expect to fit the terrible conclusion, “But my people have forgotten me.” Instead Jrm has the bride's attention not on the bridegroom but on her own finery.’56 In other words, although the bride may be Judah, and the sashes, YHWH, a bride does not have a relationship with her sashes! Jeremiah 2: 32 simply cannot be characterized as an instance of ‘the marriage metaphor’, but is rather more idiosyncratic, reflecting the distinctive style and themes of the prophetic poetry in which it is set. In characteristic fashion, this prophetic poetry combines metaphorical language with rhetorical questions to expose the incongruity of Judah's actions. In the words of Barton:

[Jeremiah] conveys throughout his oracles a sense of half‐choked fury at the absurdities of his contemporaries' conduct. The tendency in his day to worship gods other than Yahweh, which we now know was not widely felt to be wrong in pre‐exilic Judah, he presents as a ludicrous breach of every natural sense of loyalty, even as an offence against common sense: ‘Can a maiden forget her ornaments or a bride her attire’.57

Nor is this the only instance where this poetry's marital metaphorical language fails to toe the line. In 3: 20 YHWH rails, ‘Surely a woman has deceived her lover;| Thus you have deceived me, house of Israel!’ Assumptions about ‘the marriage metaphor’ have strongly shaped traditional readings of this verse, with many translating רע‎ as ‘husband’.58 Untermann refers to 3: 20 as ‘the image of the unfaithful wife’,59 while Jones simply states, ‘This serves to link the passage with the theme of the faithless wife in 3: 1’.60 Yet ‘husband’ is not the most obvious translation for רע‎, which generally tends more broadly to mean ‘companion’, and in the Song speaks of the unmarried male ‘lover’.61 McKane (p.92) recognizes this, yet, still wishing to preserve YHWH as ‘husband’, suggests, ‘As a woman deceives her husband for her lover's sake’, or ‘Like the faithlessness of a wife because of her paramour’, introducing an entirely new character.62 In my opinion, such readings confine 3: 20 to a predictable meaning that little becomes this prophetic poetry. If 3: 20 wished to allude to YHWH as Judah's ‘husband’, it could have done so. Instead, it opts for the more provocative focus, ‘lover’, whose legal relationship to the woman is not the primary concern.63 Jeremiah 3:20 accuses Judah not of committing adultery, but rather of deception, emphasizing associations of betrayal and emotional unfaithfulness, rather than the breaking of a marriage contract.64 Limiting this language to the confines of ‘the marriage metaphor’ greatly reduces its impact.65

Assumptions that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 is ‘about’ the ‘marriage metaphor’, however, are strong, with this ‘default frame’ exerting a powerful influence on interpretations of other metaphors and similes within scholarship. Jeremiah 3: 4 provides a pertinent example. In this verse, YHWH recalls Judah crying out, ‘My father! You are the intimate companion of my youth’ (אלוף נערי‎).’ Within the context of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, many assume that the ‘companionship’ here must be that of marriage. Proverbs 2: 17 is repeatedly cited, which speaks of ‘the strange woman’, who ‘forsakes the companion of her youth (אלוף נעוריה‎)’. As Fox admits, however, אלוף‎ does not mean ‘husband’ in the other contexts in which it appears. While he prefers the translation ‘mate’ in Proverbs 2: 17, he is aware that elsewhere the intimacy of an אלוף‎ is not that of a marriage partner. In Micah 7: 5, he suggests אלוף‎ is ‘best friend’66 in Psalm 55: 14, he notes that אלופי‎ ‘is collocated with meyuddā'î “my (close) acquaintance”’.67 To these instances, we might add Proverbs 16: 28, where many translate אלוף‎ as ‘friends’,68 and Proverbs 17: 9, where most agree that אלוף‎ means ‘friend’ or ‘companion’ with no connotation of marriage partner.69 (p.93) It seems that Proverbs 2: 17 is far from typical in its suggestion that ‘companion’ might refer to a husband. The influence of the ‘marriage metaphor’ on readings of Jeremiah 3: 4, however, has clearly attracted commentators to Proverbs 2: 17 to the exclusion of all other references. This is despite the manifest difficulties that such a reading generates within Jeremiah 3: 4. For here, Judah calls YHWH the ‘companion (אלוף‎) of my youth’ in the same breath as calling him ‘My Father’.70

Many show an awareness of this difficulty, yet their commitment to ‘the marriage metaphor’ leaves them unsure about how to react. Galambush recognizes that ‘reference to the husband as father occurs only here.’71 Nevertheless, she suggests, ‘The woman calls Yahweh, “My father, the companion of my youth” (v 4), apparently in an attempt to get him to restore her as his wife.’72 Shields observes that a ‘father‐daughter metaphor’ ‘disrupts the husband‐wife metaphor used in the remainder of vv. 1–5.’73 Still she asserts, ‘There may be several reasons for such a use. Considering the rest of the quotation of the people, “you are the husband of my youth”, perhaps the term is one of deference used between a young woman and an older man.’74 McKane writes, ‘We have to ask whether the Israelites are described as Yahweh's children (following Duhm). We have to ask whether the husband‐wife figure is giving place to a teacher‐pupil figure or whether we are still to think of Yahweh qua husband as the teacher (so Volz and Hyatt). The reference is then to the husband in his capacity as instructor of the young wife.’75 Holladay even proposes omitting ‘father’ (‘there is no parallel in the OT for “my father” as “my husband”’), creating the more acceptable marital language, ‘Is not “my mainstay” what you have called me? “You are the companion of my youth”.’76 A far more straightforward solution, however, is to loose אלוף נערי‎, ‘the companion of my youth’, from the binds of ‘the marriage (p.94) metaphor’, to understand it in parallel to ‘My Father’ to speak, in this particular instance, of the relationship between father and child.

Nor is the influence of ‘the marriage metaphor’ on Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 confined to 3: 4. Assumptions that this prophetic poetry is concerned with ‘the marriage metaphor’ even influences readings of metaphors and similes with no clear relation to the portrayal of YHWH as husband of Judah. In relation to 2: 13's charge that Judah has left YHWH, ‘fountain of living water’, Brueggemann states, ‘The metaphor is water, but behind it lies the metaphor of marriage.’77 Similarly, when YHWH demands, ‘What injustice did your ancestors find in me| That they became distant …?’ (2: 5), Holladay moves immediately to discuss marriage and divorce:

Behind the present shocking question are two sorts of expressions. First there is the expression for the basis of divorce, Deut 24: 1…‘because he has found in her some indecency’. But of course in Israelite society a wife may not divorce her husband in the way a husband may divorce his wife: so in Jrm's metaphor it is a shocking thing that Israel should consider divorcing her husband Yahweh (compare 3: 1).78

It seems that assumptions about ‘the marriage metaphor’ pervade readings of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4,79 and yet there is nothing to suggest that marital metaphorical language governs this prophetic poetry to this extent.80 Even its sexual and marital metaphorical language does not conform to such limited expectations, as we have seen. If we are to identify a dominant and sustained theme in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, it does not rest in ‘the marriage metaphor’, but in the relentless ridicule of Judah.81

(p.95) This is not to say that marital imagery never appears among the varied sexual and marital similes and metaphors of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4. Jeremiah 2: 2 also features ‘bride’ as a metaphorical focus, and this time Judah is indeed YHWH's bride: ‘I have remembered in your favour the faithfulness of your youth,| The love of your bridal days;| When you walked after me in the wilderness,| In a land not sown.’82 Most are content to limit 2: 2 to a straightforward reference to a marriage relationship between YHWH and Judah, but in doing so they perhaps underestimate the impact of this verse. Stienstra simply writes: ‘Here we are, indeed in the midst of the marriage metaphor. Jerusalem, representative of the people of Israel, should remember her happy bridal days with YHWH. The implication is clear, those days are gone.’83 Thompson confines his comments to a comparison with Hosea: ‘One is reminded at once of the imagery of Hos. 1–3 where the husband‐wife relationship between Hosea and Gomer is a picture of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. In the days of the wilderness wandering Israel was Yahweh's bride.’84 As Carroll hints, however, the implications of 2: 2 may reach beyond this: ‘The language and images may reflect the influence of the Hosea tradition (…), but their real force is derived from what follows…a stark contrast is set up by this poem between the idyllic origins of the community and its recent experience.’85 Indeed, we could go further, for 2: 2 not only sets up the contrast that is to follow. The words ‘I remember in your favour’ also implicitly warn of the angry accusations that are to follow.86 Thus an apparently positive marital metaphor is unexpectedly used to emphasize the inappropriate nature of Judah's actions: the loving, obedient, ‘bride’ will unthinkably turn to ‘prostitution’. In one fell swoop, 2: 2 strives to present (p.96) YHWH as merciful (he is willing to remember a time when his relationship with Judah was positive) and Judah as callous and remiss. It not only works to justify YHWH's wrath, but also to suggest that YHWH (unlike Judah) is acting more than reasonably. The strongest influence on the marital metaphorical language of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 is not ‘the marriage metaphor’, or the allegedly ubiquitous Hosea 1–3. It is the distinctive style of this prophetic poetry itself, with its persistent theme of Judah's senselessness.87

‘Prostitution’ in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4

If Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's marital metaphors are more diverse than is often assumed, so are its accusations of ‘prostitution’. We have already witnessed the way in which Hosea 4–14's ‘prostitution’ motif defies traditional readings. Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's ‘prostitution’ metaphors similarly break free of theories about ‘cultic prostitution’, reflecting the characteristic style of the poetry within which they proliferate.88 In 2: 20 YHWH continues his derision of Judah: ‘Long ago you broke your yoke,| You tore off your cords| And you said, “I will not serve!”89 |But upon every high hill| And under every luxuriant tree90 |You are bending over, prostituting!’ According to 2: 20, Judah has demanded freedom, insisting that she will not serve YHWH, and yet has inexplicably turned to ‘prostitution’, ‘bending over’ (צעה‎) and in that way ‘serving’ others.91 The word‐play between ‘bending over’ to ‘prostitute’ and ‘bending over’ to bow submissively is graphic, but frequently passed over by commentaries and translations. The NEB's colourful ‘sprawled in promiscuous vice’ fails to convey the irony,92 as does McKane's ‘like a prostitute, Israel is lying down and stretched out, ready to receive her lovers.’93 Lundbom goes (p.97) so far as to write: ‘You bend backward a whore!…The reference is to sexual intercourse, probably in a standing position. Egyptian paintings show standing women, bent over backwards, with hands on the floor, awaiting intercourse’,94 yet no one seems to pick up on the word‐play created by צעה‎, even among those who maintain the translation ‘bowed down’. Jones even understands the metaphors in v. 20 to be utterly distinct: ‘The first image is the composite one of the slave who, like a stubborn beast, breaks his yoke.… The second image is that of the harlot (vv. 20, 22), bowed down.’95 Galambush comes closest to perceiving the word‐play (‘the woman is depicted as “bending over” as a prostitute’), but still does not make the link with Judah's refusal to serve explicit.96

In my view, the difficulties in perceiving the word‐play on צעה‎ are not coincidental, but instead are closely bound up with the assumption that 2: 20 simply speaks of ‘cultic prostitution’.97 Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard insist, ‘When Jeremiah says “you lay prone, as a prostitute”, he is not using metaphorical language: the language is literal.’98 As in Hosea 4–14, we might say that the tendency to harmonize translations of the ‘prostitution’ motif propagates this approach, by eliminating the very features which might suggest that ‘prostitution’ has broken free of its hypothetical etymology to take on a life of its own. The references to ‘every high hill’ and ‘every spreading tree’ certainly suggest that Judah's ‘prostitution’ in 2: 20 involves unacceptable cultic practices (cf. 1 Kings 14: 23, 2 Kings 17: 10, Ezekiel 6: 13, 20: 28). Yet there is nothing to suggest that these practices must involve ‘cultic prostitution’. Indeed, the accusation gains power once it is loosed from this assumption. The depiction of Judah ‘bending over, prostituting’ is ironic and explicit. Not only does she break her vow not to serve, but her ‘serving’ becomes (p.98) indiscriminate (‘on every high hill …’). While exposing the way in which Judah's actions defy her own words, 2: 20 simultaneously introduces associations of degradation and humiliation to the poetry's ‘prostitution’ motif.99

The ruthless exposé of Judah's ludicrous behaviour continues with 3: 2–3: ‘Upon paths you have sat waiting for them,| Like the desert‐dweller in the wilderness,| And you have polluted the land with your prostitutions and wickedness!| So the showers have been withheld,| And there are no latter rains.| But you have the forehead of a prostitute;| You refuse to be ashamed!’ The forehead is mentioned elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible in the context of stubbornness, and many agree that this is a key to understanding this accusation.100 Shields writes: ‘The connotations of stubbornness, haughtiness, refusal to acknowledge culpability, brazenness, or any combination of the four, are evoked.’101 Bauer reflects, ‘The image connotes hardness, resistance to change, stubbornness.’102 According to 3: 3, Judah's ‘prostitution’, with the associations of ‘stubbornness’ and ‘shamelessness’ that this context encourages, has had the direct consequence of water deprivation. Yet still Judah will not return to YHWH.103

Perhaps the most well‐known use of metaphorical prostitution in this prophetic poetry, however, is to be found in 3: 1: ‘If a man sends his wife away,104 |And she goes from him| And belongs to another man,| Will he return to her again?105 (p.99) |Would not that land| Be utterly polluted?| Yet you have prostituted with many lovers| And (would) return to me(?)! Oracle of Yhwh.’ Debates over whether 3: 1 refers specifically to the law preserved in Deuteronomy 24: 1–4 will doubtless continue, but are superfluous for our concerns.106 For, notwithstanding this discussion, the responses demanded by 3: 1's characteristic rhetorical questions concerning this situation are provided: the man would certainly not return to his wife, for, if he did, ‘the land would be utterly polluted’.107 Once again, Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 presents the conclusions of a ‘rational’ person and, once again, in the face of such rationality, we are presented with Judah's incongruous behaviour. Judah has not simply acted like a wife who has left her husband for another man, she has actually ‘prostituted’ and with many lovers.108 According to 3: 1, Judah has already done worse than the hypothetical wife.

This prophetic poetry is not content to stop here, however, as YHWH rages, ‘Yet you have prostituted with many lovers| And (would) return to me(?)!’ The second half of 3: 1 has posed more of a challenge to readers, leaving scholarship divided. Many insist that, like the previous responses, the response to this rhetorical question must be ‘no’: such a return would be incongruous. Holladay comments, ‘it is against the law for a wife to return to her first husband after a second marriage—how much more impossible for Israel to imagine returning to Yahweh after her affairs with the Baals!’109 Lundbom echoes, ‘This is an argument from the lesser to the greater, i.e., if such and such is the case, how much more is something else the case.’110 There are some, however, who suggest that the second half of 3: 1 may be more complex. For YHWH's words in 3: 1b are not necessarily a question (‘And would return to me?!’): they could instead be interpreted as a statement: ‘And/But return to me!’ It is striking that elsewhere in Jeremiah (including 3: 12–13) the people are called precisely to return to YHWH. For Fishbane this ambiguity in the text is crucial, as 3: 1 embodies the ‘tension’ within Jeremiah ‘between the legal impossibility of return and the religious possibility of (p.100) repentance and divine remission’.111 Shields agrees, insisting, ‘As a question [3: 1b] is a sarcastic utterance…As a statement, it foreshadows the appeals of the rest of the chapter.’112 Indeed, Shields calls attention to the way in which, just verses later, in 3: 12–13, ‘the prophetic “no” of vv. 1–11 is turned into a “Yes”’ as this explicit call to return presents a ‘transgression of the previous intertexts’ (and the law).113

Other readings of Jeremiah 3: 1 reflect the ambiguity and tension that Fishbane and Shields call to our attention. Abma initially comments, ‘While the first situation already calls for the answer “no, he cannot return to her again”, the second situation invites even a stronger negative response, “no, impossible!” The sheer impossibility of Judah's repentance is underscored.’114 Despite such strong words, however, she continues, ‘At the same time, the point of the comparison does not seem to lie in the impossibility of repentance, but rather seems to lie in the exceptional character of God's marriage with Israel, in which, despite legal barriers, repentance is yet possible.… Against all odds, Yhwh will take Israel back.’115 Lundbom similarly insists, ‘In the argument here an emphatic “No!” is clearly anticipated: Israel cannot return.’ Yet he also continues ‘…at least not for now and not under the present circumstances’.116

The ambiguity of Jeremiah 3: 1 is striking and compelling, as this prophetic poetry exploits fully the lack of need for a formal marker for rhetorical questions in Hebrew.117 The wider literary frame of YHWH's call to repentance (p.101) in Jeremiah leaves open the possibility that this phrase might just, against all odds, be(come) an appeal to Judah to return. At the same time, the relentless list of rhetorical questions within which these words appear forcefully encourages the reader to perceive a rhetorical question, exposing and ridiculing Judah's expectation that she might return to YHWH. Any woman would realize—through common sense—that her husband would not take her back after involvement with another man. If we take the citation as accepted law, such a return is even illegal. Nevertheless, in the face of her countless liaisons and ‘prostitutions’ ‘with many’, Judah is expecting YHWH to welcome her in! How absurd! Thus, once again, Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's ‘prostitution’ motif contributes to the mockery of this senseless and hopeless female.118

In the face of these involved and complex rhetorical strategies, McKane illustrates a substitutionary approach to metaphor in his reading of 3: 1, as he reduces the liveliness of the ‘prostitution’ motif within this provocative context to mere metonym:

The sexual imagery seems to be more than a metaphor for idolatry (Targ., Kimchi) and to have a special appropriateness to the nature of Israel's unfaithfulness. Her involvement in sexual rites associated with the Canaanite cult lends such a particular appositeness to the sexual imagery that it is more than a metaphor for idolatry which could be replaced without loss by another metaphor not involving sexual imagery.119

McKane might believe that he is increasing 3: 1's impact through such a reading, yet instead he imposes severe restrictions on metaphorical meaning, binding the metaphor to a hypothetical practice and obscuring the countless associations such as pollution, excess, abandonment, faithlessness, and (of course) absurdity, that its distinctive frame introduces. Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard similarly demonstrate how far this prophetic poetry can be underestimated as they ‘substitute’ 3: 1's words with language of marriage and covenant:

The metaphor of faithfulness is expressed once again in marital language (v 20), resuming the principal theme of the chapter (cf. 3: 1–5). As a wife had been faithless toward her husband, so too had the ‘House of Israel’ (…) been totally unfaithful. Both metaphors, that of God as parent and God as husband, reveal different dimensions of the covenant faith.120

Given such stereotypical readings, it is perhaps no wonder that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's sexual and marital metaphorical language has been considered ‘conventional’ and lacking in ‘originality’.

(p.102) Wider sexual and marital metaphorical language in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4

Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's sexual and marital metaphorical language is by no means limited to descriptions of YHWH as ‘lover’, Judah as ‘bride’, and the persistent charge of ‘prostitution’.121 Perhaps one of the more infamous descriptions exploring wider sexual metaphorical language is 2: 24: ‘A wild‐ass used to the wilderness| In the craving of her desire she pants after a scent.122| It is her season—who can turn her back?123| All who seek her will not grow weary;| In her month they will find her!’ Brenner highlights the rarity of this metaphorical language for its harnessing of animal sexuality.124 Unsurprisingly, many feminist readers find this language particularly objectionable. For Brenner, the animalistic imagery heightens the text's ‘pornographic qualities’, perhaps particularly because this female animal is ‘fabulous’ (‘It is not natural for a female animal to be in heat continually’125).126 Exum contends, ‘Jer 2. 23–24 masks male fear of and fascination with female desire by crudely caricaturing the woman as a young camel or wild donkey on heat,’127 while K. M. O'Connor protests, ‘Animal imagery merges with harlot imagery to label female sexuality as wild, disgusting, and uncontrollable.’128 In 2: 24 Judah is portrayed as insatiable in her desire to make alliances with other nations and gods, appearing all but indifferent to her partners' identity. We could even say the allusions to animal sexuality encourage associations of a strong, irrational instinct, reinforcing the poetry's portrayal of Judah as driven by a blind, apparently senseless, force.129

If Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 repeatedly illustrates the absurdity of Judah's behaviour, I believe that an appreciation of the significance of this theme as a wider (p.103) frame for the poetry's sexual and marital metaphorical language can shed a great deal of light on what is perhaps the most audacious sexual metaphor of all in 3: 2: ‘Lift your eyes to the bare places and look!| Where have you not been raped (שׁגלת‎)?!| Upon paths you have sat waiting for them,130| Like the desert‐dweller in the wilderness!’ Many might object to ‘rape’ as a translation of שׁגל‎. The shocking impact of this term to describe Judah's behaviour was clearly too much for some ancient readers, as the Qere, ‘Where have you not been lain with?’ (איפה לא שׁכבת‎), retains sexual associations, but is notably less graphic. Traditional English translations betray a similar tendency to avoid crude language, frequently preferring the Qere. RSV reads, ‘Where have you not been lain with?’, while Lundbom and Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard suggest, ‘Where have you not been laid?’131 McKane suggests, ‘Is there any place where you have not fornicated?’, eradicating the violence (and the distinctiveness) of the imagery.132 Even where translations adopt the Ketiîb, they tend to translate שׁגל‎ as ‘to ravish’, which can have associations of violence, but in recent years has perhaps also come to have more positive associations, suggesting some consent on the part of the female. Leslie reads, ‘Where have you not been ravished?’,133 but nevertheless comments, ‘Jeremiah daringly paints the picture of Israelite worshipers as harlots waiting beside the road to entice their paramours.’ And so Judah becomes active in her ‘ravishing’.134 Thus, by various ways and means, translations and readings of 3: 2 strive to reduce the shocking impact of the use of שׁגל‎ as a metaphorical focus.

There are exceptions. Some seek to maintain what they understand to be the obscene nature of שׁגל‎. Chapman suggests, ‘“Look up to the hills and see, where have you not been fucked?”’135 while Gravett echoes, ‘As a way to express the offensive nature of the verb in any of its four occurrences, it could be most accurately translated into English as “fucked”.’136 For others, however, (p.104) even these translations do not go far enough, as they fail to recognize the violence inherent in שׁגל‎. Holladay writes, ‘It is likely that the connotation here is not simply that of sexual intercourse expressed crudely, but of ravishment. Though Israel seeks lovers, she is ill‐treated by those who take her.’137 Bauer insists, ‘The metaphor depicts sexual violence. שׁגל‎ carries the connotation of forced sexual intercourse.’138

Such observations are significant. Every other time a verbal form of שׁגל‎ appears in the Hebrew Bible its force is violent, provoking the Qere, שׁכב‎ (‘to lie with’). In Deuteronomy 28: 30, Isaiah 13: 16, and Zechariah 14: 2, שׁגל‎ is consistently used to describe rape (for our purposes, a violent sexual act against the will of the female), and in each case this rape features within a threat directed towards men, striving to deter them from their actions.139 The sheer brutality of שׁגל‎ is perhaps best illustrated, however, through its appearance in Isaiah 13: 16 alongside the threat that children will be ‘dashed to pieces’: ‘Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes.| Their houses will be plundered| And their wives raped (תשׁגלנה‎).’140 It seems that within the Hebrew Bible שׁגל‎ is used precisely for its potential to shock. The translation of the Ketib of 3: 1 as ‘Where have you not been raped?’ is therefore legitimate, indeed recommended, on linguistic grounds.141

Nevertheless, some might find this translation problematic, as the resulting question seems preposterous: ‘Where have you not been raped?!| Upon waysides you have sat (waiting) for them.’ It might even provoke a rhetorical question worthy of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 itself: ‘Who in their right mind would sit around by the side of a road waiting to be raped?’ In my view, however, it is precisely in this absurdity that the crux of 3: 2 lies. We have seen how Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 consistently depicts Judah as a ridiculous nation. We could say that 3: 2 is a further example of this, but one whose language is significantly more (p.105) shocking (and offensive) for its sexual violence. If we were to ask why Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 might level such an accusation at Judah, then it is possible that 3: 2 alludes to her search for political alliances, hinted at in 2: 18 and 2: 36–7.142 Although, as Bauer observes, ‘the violator remains anonymous’,143 we might say that 3: 2 suggests that, in waiting for aid from these countries, Judah has in essence been waiting to be ‘raped’. The absurdity, and tragedy, of the situation is compounded by the fact that she does not even realize that she has been violated in this way (at least according to this text: we do not hear her own account of events). While this poetry portrays Judah as determined to see these nations as ‘lovers’ (3: 33), at the same time it insists that she has been forced into these relationships and compelled to pay homage against her will.144 It seems that once again Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 is intent on ruthlessly exposing the irony of Judah's situation, forcing her to accept ‘reality’.145 Indeed, we could go further, to say that implicit within this powerful metaphor is a chilling warning of what will come, as the nations for whom Judah waits will return to ‘rape’ and pillage.146 Judah's blissful ignorance and senseless exposing of herself to this very real threat emphasizes the foolishness of this ridiculous female.

(p.106) An exploration of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 highlights the strikingly varied and diverse nature of this poetry's sexual and marital metaphors and similes. These conform neither to the assumed mould of ‘the marriage metaphor’ nor to the reconstructed ‘etymology’ of ‘cultic prostitution’, but rather strongly reflect the characteristic style and persuasive strategies of this inimitable text, contributing to the theme that pervades almost every verse: Judah has acted irrationally, recklessly, and ludicrously. In Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, Judah's ‘prostitution’ is directionless and ridiculous. She will prostitute with anyone, anywhere, even sitting around waiting to be raped! Compare this to other prophetic books, and the contrast is clear. We have seen how Hosea 4–14 uses its ‘prostitution’ motif to discredit ‘holy women’, introducing a causal link between the people's predicament and their actions, while leaving the responsibility firmly at the feet of her priests and other leaders. There is no ruthless exposé of Israel as a ludicrous nation in Hosea 4–14 (indeed, we might say that this prophetic poetry is concerned primarily with the potential for renewal). While the sexual and marital metaphorical language of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 is diverse, it is also at the same time strongly distinctive, echoing the scornful theme of this prophetic poetry.


If so far we have concentrated on the poetry of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4, within these chapters also lies a passage of prose material with sexual and marital metaphorical language: 3: 6–11.147 Most consider this prophetic prose to be distinct from the poetry, even if the relationship between the two has been the subject of significant debate.148 For our purposes, the striking differences in style, theme, and metaphorical language are reason enough to consider these passages separately. It is worth noting, however, that 3: 6–11 has its own introduction (3: 6), and the characters ‘Turncoat Israel’ and ‘Deceitful Judah’ are introduced for the first time in this passage.149 While regarding 3: 6–11 as distinct from the poetry of 2: 1–4: 4, this exploration is concerned with their strong relationship within (p.107) the ‘rolling corpus’ of Jeremiah.150 Indeed, with McKane and Kaufman, we might call 3: 6–11 a meditation, or ‘pesher’, on the prophetic poetry.151

For the purposes of this study, the most significant aspect of the relationship between 3: 6–11 and the poetry of 2: 1–4: 4 is the prose passage's tendency to recall and reflect on particular words, phrases, and motifs that appear within the poetry.152 The prominent ‘walking’ motif reappears: ‘She is walking (הלכה‎) upon every high mountain’ (3: 6); ‘And she also went (ותלך‎) and prostituted’ (3: 8). YHWH's accusation in 3: 1, ‘Would not that land be utterly polluted (חנוף תחנף‎)?’, is echoed in 3: 9, ‘She polluted (ותחנף‎) the land’. Indeed, the ‘stone’ and ‘tree’ with which Judah ‘commits adultery’ in 3: 9 are almost certainly inspired by 2: 27: ‘Who say to the tree, “You are my father”,| And to the stone, “You are the one who gave birth to me”.’153 In this way, 3: 6–11 repeatedly draws upon the poetry of 2: 1–4: 4 as a rich resource for its own metaphors and motifs. If some might therefore suggest that 3: 6–11 should not be considered distinct from its poetic context (cf. Bright154), there are nevertheless striking differences in the ways in which these motifs are used. For a start, 3: 6–11 speaks of both Israel and Judah, while the poetry concentrates on Judah alone.155 Most significantly, the insistent ridicule of Judah that so characterizes 2: 1–4: 4's poetry appears nowhere in 3: 6–11. Where the ‘walking’ motif appears in this prophetic prose, it does not work as a repeated device to expose Judah's indiscriminate following; nor is it complemented by the ‘way’ motif. Moreover, if the worshipping of ‘the stone’ and ‘the tree’ in the poetry is polemical and derogatory in 2: 27,156 then in 3: 6–11 these ‘items’ feature as straightforward descriptions of false worship. Indeed, while the divorce of a man and wife in 3: 1 is presented as a hypothetical (p.108) situation, in 3: 8 YHWH has sent Israel away and even given her a certificate of divorce.157 Thus 3: 6–11 repeatedly draws on the motifs and vocabulary of the prophetic poetry, but employs them quite differently.158

As we might expect, the sexual and marital metaphorical language of 3: 6–11 reflects such characteristic tendencies. This prophetic prose is not interested in the diversity of metaphorical language that we find in the poetry. Instead, it homes in on the ‘prostitution’ motif (perhaps due to its popularity elsewhere), while introducing the complementary ‘adultery’ focus. Moreover, in stark contrast to the poetic passages, 3: 6–11's metaphorical language is bland and descriptive, with its wider frame providing little vitality.

She is walking upon every high mountain and to every spreading tree and has prostituted159 there. (Jeremiah 3: 6)

But Deceitful Judah, her sister, did not fear and she also went and prostituted. (Jeremiah 3: 8)

But her prostitution was so trifling that she polluted the land and committed adultery with the stone and with the tree. (Jeremiah 3: 9)

We could even say that metaphorical prostitution is all but dead in 3: 6–11, strongly echoing the focus's deathly appearances in prose works such as Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, and Chronicles, where ‘prostitution’ formulaically describes engagement in unacceptable cultic practices (with no improvisations), to the point that we might expect to find ‘prostitution’ defined as ‘apostasy’ in lexicons.160

If a person turns to mediums and wizards, prostituting after them…(Leviticus 20: 6)

This people will rise and prostitute after the strange gods of this land. (Deuteronomy 31: 16)

They did not listen to their judges; for they prostituted after other gods and bowed down to them. (Judges 2: 17)161

(p.109) Even Galambush characterizes these ‘extraprophetic’ metaphors as ‘for all intents and purposes “dead”’.162

If metaphorical death is the fate of Jeremiah 3: 6–11's ‘prostitution’ motif, we could say the same of its ‘adultery’ focus. Jeremiah 3: 8 states: ‘And I saw that because Turncoat Israel committed adultery, I sent her away.’ Contrary to the assumptions of many, metaphorical adultery is rare within the Hebrew Bible.163 It is not even to be found among the diverse sexual and marital metaphorical language of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's poetry.164 Its appearance in 3: 6–11 is therefore worth further consideration. Although this exploration is not concerned with tracing the development of prophetic sexual and marital metaphorical language, the strong similarities between 3: 6–11 and Ezekiel 23 are worth mentioning.165 Not only does the latter similarly involve two sisters, it portrays Judah's behaviour as worse than Israel's (23: 11, 23: 19): an unexpected assertion that also features in Jeremiah 3: 6–11 (3: 11). Perhaps most significantly, however, we encounter the unusual use of ‘adultery’ as a metaphorical focus in Ezekiel 23: 36–49 (23: 37, 45), which we will consider later to be a distinct passage within Ezekiel 23. It is possible that, just as Jeremiah 3: 6–11 draws upon the vocabulary and motifs of the poetry within which it lies, it also draws upon passages extraneous to Jeremiah, one of which could be a version of Ezekiel 23: 1–49, or something similar.166

A significant feature of Ezekiel 23: 36–49's ‘adultery’ focus that has so far tended to escape notice—and that we will explore further in due course—is its associations of child sacrifice, appearing twice within the context of this practice (23: 37, 45). If this seems unlikely, it is worth noting that child sacrifice, (p.110) like adultery, could be perceived as a troubling threat to the male bloodline. Even without this possible explanation, however, we have seen that literary context has the potential to introduce unusual associations to a metaphorical focus. But if ‘adultery’ is bound up with child sacrifice in Ezekiel 23: 36–49, the focus has no such connotations in Jeremiah 3: 6–11. Here ‘adultery’ seems simply—and, as we will see, unusually—to be synonymous with ‘prostitution’. It seems that both ‘prostitution’ and ‘adultery’ appear as shadows of themselves in this prophetic prose. Such corpse‐like metaphors contrast starkly with the animated metaphorical language of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's poetry.


Investigations of prophetic sexual and marital metaphorical language have rarely focused on Jeremiah, which is often characterized simply as a stepping‐stone by which ‘the marriage metaphor’ passes from Hosea 1–3 to Ezekiel 16 and 23.167 An exploration of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 suggests that such a view is unwarranted. Within these chapters, we find a diversity unparalleled in the Hebrew Bible. On the one hand, in the prophetic poetry an assortment of sexual and marital metaphors and similes interweave with wider metaphorical language, repetition, and insistent rhetorical questions ruthlessly to expose the stupidity of Judah. On the other hand, we are presented with the pallid prostitution and adultery metaphors of 3: 6–11, where we perhaps witness the movement of these foci towards lexicalized descriptions of unacceptable worship. We might even say that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 emphasizes the importance of recognizing different layers of a prophetic text for the purposes of this study. To harmonize prematurely the metaphorical language of these prose and poetic passages would only serve to cloud their context and dull their imaginative impact.

The persuasive impact of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's poetry is impressive, particularly where it combines its forceful rhetorical questions with sexual and marital metaphorical language. Once again, however, the power of this text raises a number of concerns for current readers. Like Hosea 4–14, Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 seeks to redeem its negative portrayal of Judah. Weems writes: ‘At the same time that the prophet construed his audience's behaviour as abominable and shameless, he also used romantic imagery to reassure them of something equally astounding: namely, that after a period of punishment, God stood (p.111) prepared to forgive Israel and to begin their relationship anew.’168 Stienstra suggests that 2: 1–4: 4's negative language might be redeemed by the later description of Judah as ‘Virgin Israel’ in 31: 3–5: ‘This is an image not just of forgiveness, but of total rehabilitation.’169 Words of shame and contrition which indicate a desire to start the relationship anew are even found in the (probably later) closing words of 3: 21–5.170

As we have seen in our discussion of Hosea 4–14, however, it is not necessarily as easy to reverse language as Weems and Stienstra suggest. Shields calls attention to the way in which Jeremiah 3: 1–4: 4's positive language is reserved exclusively for males: ‘The possibilities for repentance and restoration are all addressed to sons rather than to wives/daughters,’171 she observes. Indeed, by the time we reach Jeremiah 4: 1–4, all allusions to females disappear:

The final allusions to the patriarchal covenant and to circumcision make an undeniably exclusively male statement. Although the circumcision is radicalized (it is circumcision of the heart), it is nonetheless an exclusively male metaphor which effectively bars women from a place in structuring identity, descent or kinship. Women, by definition, are excluded from the positive symbols of this text.172

It seems that the redemption of Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 is not as straightforward as many would hope. While this passage has a positive impulse, the female, Judah, is excluded from such ‘redemption’.173 The emphasis on ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ also raises real questions about how far this passage might be considered ‘redemptive’ at all, as the repenting people wail, ‘Let us lie down in our shame and let our dishonour cover us’ (3: 25).174 We might even wish that the female personification (however problematic) would continue, with Judah maintaining her refusal to bow to YHWH's demands, and thus at least retaining some dignity.

If the lack of redemptive female imagery in Jeremiah 3: 1–4: 4 is challenging, it is not the only difficulty confronting readers. There have been many objections to this prophetic poetry's lurid description of Judah as a camel and a wild‐ass on heat.175 Yet it is perhaps the portrayal of Judah's experience of sexual violence that is particularly disturbing. Scholars are divided over (p.112) whether forced sexual intercourse in the Hebrew Bible can be described as ‘rape’. Brenner is insistent that ‘the ‘concept of “rape”, as defined in western legal systems, is non‐existent in biblical language as we have it’.176 Others are committed to using the language of rape, while remaining conscious of the socio‐cultural and historical differences involved. Gravett insists:

Women and men in these cultural settings might not understand or process their experiences in the same way as twenty‐first‐century persons endure rape and all of its repercussions, but using a modern word to bring these ancient texts into focus does link some common reactions in both settings—the sense of physical violation, the feelings of shame and being outcast, the loss of self and place in the culture—however different the reasons for such responses.177

Washington reminds us that rape ‘is a site of contested meanings’ even in today's Western societies,178 and warns us against unconsciously colluding with those who would seek to explain rape away and to blame its victims.

Conventional historical and social‐scientific critics…are generally reluctant to impose contemporary norms of sexual consent anachronistically onto the biblical texts. This scruple deprives criticism of its ability to identify the forced sexual subjugation of women in biblical narratives as rape. The result is that the simultaneous inscription and erasure of rape that occurs in biblical texts is perpetuated in scholarly biblical interpretations.179

Drawing on the work of scholars such as Gravett and Washington, it seems to me important to name Judah's experience of sexual violation as ‘rape’. There are, of course, socio‐cultural and historical distinctions between the world we live in and the world portrayed in the Hebrew Bible, and these must be (p.113) acknowledged. While we continue to use terms such as ‘father’ and ‘son’ in translations, however, notwithstanding the manifest distinctions between the associations of these terms in Western societies and their associations within the Hebrew Bible (as we do in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4), to my mind we can use the language of ‘rape’ despite the distinctions in associations involved there. In any case, as I discussed in the Introduction, it is always worth taking time to explore the associations of any language we encounter within its specific literary context, rather than relying on our ‘default context’ to create its meanings.

If we consider the ‘rape’ (שׁגל‎) of Judah, we could say that the term gathers associations of promiscuous behaviour in Jeremiah 3: 2 through its renaming as ‘prostitutions’ (in the plural) with the nameless ‘them’ (similarly in the plural). It also gathers associations of wrongdoing and uncleanness through its presentation as ‘wickedness’ (רעה‎) that somehow has the power to ‘pollute (חנף‎) the land’. Some might say that the reactions to Judah's rape in the text are not as distant from the reactions that some victims of rape experience today as we might like to think. Indeed, it is striking that the accusation that Judah was somehow ‘asking for it’ resonates throughout the passage, for instance in the words ‘you have sat waiting for them!’ We might ask whether tradition has exacerbated the problem through the toning down of the description of Judah's experience in the Qere reading, mirroring the experience of many flesh‐and‐blood women, where unconsented sexual intercourse is not named as ‘rape’ but called by other names instead. Bauer is certainly aware of the echoes between the rape of Judah in Jeremiah 3: 2 and women's experience today: ‘To add insult to injury (and yet reinscribe social conventions), the tone of the question indicts the woman for acting promiscuously. Underscoring this blaming, the next colon accuses the woman of sitting in wait “for them,” the men for the sexual encounters, suggesting that as the aggressor she invited the violation. Again the woman is blamed for the rape.’180 Reading Jeremiah 3: 2 alert to such issues can be a disturbing experience, as the force of the prophetic poetry's rhetoric of absurdity strongly encourages the reader to participate in ridiculing Judah for being raped, rather than having compassion for her. It is Judah who ends up on trial, rather than her attackers.

Nor is Judah given any opportunity to defend herself, or tell her own story in the midst of this prophetic poetry's ruthless rhetorical questioning. We have seen a number of scholars speak of chapter 2 as a ‘lawsuit’ perhaps this text would be less problematic if Judah were given the opportunity to answer the charges arraigned against her.181 It is possibly here that the richest (p.114) resource lies for those wishing to resist the forceful assumptions of this text, however. For Judah's words are cited in some instances by YHWH.182 Shields calls attention to the complexities involved in listening to Judah's voice, stressing that this ‘opposing voice’ is ‘manipulated and controlled by the prophet/YHWH. The quotations are chosen and used in such a way as to place the audience in an even more damning position.’183 Nevertheless, it remains striking that the glimpses we get of Judah's words in Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 present us with a very different female to the one presented in the rest of this prophetic poetry. This is indeed an ‘opposing voice’, and it presents us with a remarkably consistent impression of Judah's attitude towards the accusations against her. Judah insists, ‘I am not defiled,| I have not gone after the Baals!’ (2: 23); ‘I am innocent;| Surely his anger has turned from me’ ‘I have not sinned’ (2: 35).184 Her words are backed up by her demeanour as she betrays no signs of guilt: ‘you refuse to be ashamed!’ (3: 3). Indeed, we could say that in 2: 25 we are presented with a frustrated female ready to give up on her relationship with YHWH, acutely aware that he is unable to tolerate her behaviour, and yet conscious that this is indeed how she wishes to live. ‘It is hopeless: No!185| For I have loved strangers;| So after them I will go!’ Baumann is concerned that when Judah speaks, ‘it is only in supposed quotations that establish her compulsive pursuit of the Baals and make it clear that she lacks any sense of guilt (2: 23, 25).’186 We might ask, however, whether this lack of guilt must be viewed so negatively. What if Judah does not perceive herself to be guilty? What if she does not understand herself to be in a ‘marriage’ relationship with YHWH?187 Indeed, it is striking that Judah does not once use sexual or marital metaphorical language herself to speak of her relationship with YHWH, but rather cries in frustration, ‘My Father,| You are the companion of my youth; Will he be angry forever,| Will he keep on to the end?!’ (3: 4–5). We could begin to wonder whether it is Judah who (p.115) has misconstrued her relationship with YHWH, or YHWH who has misconstrued his relationship with Judah. As we listen to Judah's voice in this way, we begin to get the impression that YHWH's characterization of her as inconsistent and irrational is perhaps premature. Judah certainly seems to know her own mind, even if it does not cohere with YHWH's perspective.188

The alternative characterization of Judah lying within Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 raises significant questions about the portrayal of her behaviour. It seems that, if we resist the overriding force of this prophetic poetry's persuasive language, listening instead to the voice of Judah, however quiet, we begin to form quite a different impression of her, as a female who seeks to act independently, self‐sufficient with regard to YHWH, and confident of what she desires out of life. As we focus on this alternative portrayal of Judah, we may begin to see her rape in 3: 2 as altogether less ridiculous and more demanding of compassion.

We have spoken of Hosea 4–14's extreme propensity to undercut its own arguments. We could say that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 also displays such a tendency in its inclusion of Judah's ‘opposing voice’. Nor is this the only way in which this prophetic poetry undermines itself. The text's bold use of rhetorical questions may also hold within it the potential for its own unravelling. We have already seen that, while YHWH's rhetorical question in 2: 11, ‘Has any (other) nation exchanged its gods?’, expects the response, ‘No’, YHWH himself ironically expects Judah ‘to change their baalistic understanding of Yahweh to a different concept of him’.189 Carroll also calls attention to 2: 31, where YHWH demands, ‘Have I been a wilderness to Israel?| Or a land of deep darkness?’, despite the fact that in the previous verse he has admitted to ‘smiting’ his children. He insists, ‘In view of v. 30…the question in 31b might well be answered in the affirmative! A god who destroys his people is a thick darkness, a desert and a demonical force. Small wonder that the people should shun him!’190 It seems that Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4 presents the reader with valuable opportunities to resist its assumptions: not only through (p.116) listening to the suppressed female voice, but also through taking care to treat the text's questions as open and genuine, not surrendering uncritically to their persuasive force. This is surely a resource to be taken seriously by those seeking to grapple with the difficulties of prophetic sexual and marital metaphorical language.


(1) Galambush (1992: 57), Weems (1995: 52), Baumann (2003: 106), van den Eynde (2001: 91). Where ‘prostitution’ and ‘adultery’ appear elsewhere in Jeremiah, they seem to be literal references: 5: 7; 7: 9; 9: 1 [ET 9: 2]; 23: 10, 14, 29: 23. The only two exceptions are 13: 20–7 and 31: 31–4. As the sexual and marital metaphors and similes of Jeremiah are otherwise concentrated in 2: 1–4: 4, however, we will focus on this passage, enabling us to explore this metaphorical language within its literary frame.

(2) Abma (1999: 234), Holladay (1986: 62), DeRoche (1983a: 367), Carroll (1986: 115). Some understand 4: 3–4 to begin or move towards a new section. Cf. Untermann (1987: 30–2) for a discussion.

(3) McKane (1986).

(4) Abma (1999: 239–42) provides further examples of ‘key words’.

(5) Here and elsewhere in Jer 2: 1–4: 4, ‘Israel’ is an ideal name for Judah (excepting the prose passages, which distinguish between the two nations). Carroll (1986: 128): ‘It is unnecessary to make the phrases “house of Jacob”, “house of Israel” refer to Israel rather than to Judah and to treat the discourse as extracts from Jeremiah's early preaching to the northern clans (contra Albertz 1982 and many commentators). The rhetorical nature of the material hardly permits such an interpretative precision and the demise of Israel in 722 allowed the Judaean state to use its epithets freely without opposition.’ Cf. Driver (1906: 18), Leslie (1954: 30). Contra Holladay (1986: 93), who believes that ‘Israel’ refers to the Israelite nation even within poetic passages, and Shields (2004: 8), who follows McConville (1993: 29–33) to maintain that, outside the prose passage 3: 6–11, ‘Israel’ refers ‘to the historic designation which encompasses both the Northern Kingdom and Judah’. Cf. Abma (1999: 235–6), Biddle (1990). There is some disagreement over whether the female in Jer 2: 1–4: 4 is nation or city: the poetry alternates between referring to Jerusalem (2: 2), ‘Israel’ (2: 14), and Judah (2: 28). Galambush (1992: 53–4) is adamant that the female is Jerusalem, following her interest in ‘The City as Yahweh's Wife’ (the subtitle of her monograph). Cf. Biddle (1990: 70–1). Abma (1999: 246) is keen to understand the female as nation, due to the references to the wilderness period and foreign alliances. It seems to me that Jer 2: 1–4: 4 creates a female personification precisely so that it can move between these different possibilities. Galambush (1992: 54) admits, ‘Jerusalem seems to stand for city, state and members of the state simultaneously’. For our purposes, we will call the female ‘Judah’.

(6) 2: 25 may form an inclusio with 2: 2, where Judah ‘loves’ and ‘walks after’ YHWH rather than strangers. Cf. DeRoche (1983a: 368). All references to Judah's walking appear within 2: 2–25, and it is possible that this inclusio closes the motif (until its reintroduction by the prose 3: 6–11). Cf. Galambush (1992: 55).

(7) Holladay (1986: 95): ‘The third colon … ironically parallels the second: he did not abandon you but led you at the very time he was leading you, you abandoned him.’ DeRoche (1983a: 368) speaks of ‘a series of parallel and contrasting images’ created by the repetition of הלך‎ in Jeremiah 2: ‘Whereas Israel has committed adultery by following the Baals, Yahweh has remained true to his people by continually leading them.’ LXX omits הלך‎ from 2: 17, and some believe it to be dittography of 2: 18. Cf. Bright (1965: 9), Janzen (1973: 10). However, Holladay (1986: 52) argues that this is influenced by LXX's desire to eliminate a tricola, arguing that the instance is not close enough to 2: 18 to suggest dittography. הלך‎ also features two further times in the poetry in ways that do not obviously contribute to this rhetorical technique (3: 1, 12).

(8) Cf. the repetition of preposition ל‎ in 2: 18. Holladay (1986: 95): ‘one may expect that the piling up of six occurrences of ל‎ in the four cola is deliberate, giving an impression of constant scurrying and rearranging now that Judah is out from under Yahweh's patronage.’

(9) Understanding תזלי‎ as a form of אזל‎, ‘to go about’. Carroll (1986: 139) suggests ‘to gad about’. McKane (1986: 49, 54–5) translates 2: 36 as ‘What a trifling matter you make it to alter your course’, understanding תזלי‎ as a Hiphil of זלל‎ (‘to make light of’) following the Versions. Cf. Holladay (1986: 111). It seems to me that the force of אזל‎ better reflects this poetry's wider themes.

(10) There has been some debate over whether 2: 23's allusion to Judah as a camel should be interpreted sexually. Bailey and Holladay (1968) insist that the camel language is not sexually loaded, but rather ‘the perfect illustration for all that is “skittery” and unreliable’. Cf. Jones (1992: 90–1), Lundbom (1999: 281), Abma (1999: 225), Chapman (2004: 122). Others disagree, stressing that the image occurs alongside the allusion to Judah as a wild‐ass on heat in 2: 24. Cf. Leslie (1954: 32), Carroll (1986: 133), McKane (1986: 45–6), Bauer (1999b: 31, 33). Some even omit the reference to Judah as ‘wild ass’, so that 2: 23–4 can be understood as a description of a camel on heat. Cf. Driver and Miles (1937/8: 98 f.). Such an emendation seems unnecessary, even if פרה‎ is an unusual spelling of פרא‎ and the gender is unusually feminine (perhaps influenced by the female personification). McKane (1986: 45–6), Holladay (1986: 53, 100–1), Lundbom (1999: 281–2) defend MT. Bailey and Holladay's observations of the associations of unreliability and ‘skittery’ behaviour seem appropriate within the literary context. At the same time, the female gender of the camel, combined with the intimate positioning of this allusion alongside that of the ‘wild ass’ does seem likely to arouse sexual associations. There seems to me no reason why all these associations may not be in play here.

(11) רדנו‎ is difficult, as the verb appears rarely (Gen 27: 41, Ps 55: 3, Hos 12: 1). While in Genesis it seems to have the meaning of ‘to break loose or free’, its force is unclear in Psalms and Hosea, and the latter may even be corrupted. Here in Jer 2: 31, LXX reads ‘we will not be ruled over’, while KJV proposes ‘we are Lords’. BDB 923 suggests ‘wander restlessly, roam’, while HALOT iii. 1194 proposes, ‘to roam about freely’, citing Zürcher Bibel's (1931) ‘we wander freely’ and NRSV's ‘we are free’. Most translate ‘we are free’, using the parallel ‘we will not come to you’ as a guide. Cf. Lundbom (1999: 292), Jones (1992: 94), although Bright (1965: 16) admits that this translation is ‘a guess’. Holladay (1986: 55) proposes ‘we have roamed’, arguing that ‘Arabic rāda is common and the meaning (“walk about, prowl”) fits the context admirably’. Cf. Driver (1906: 12): ‘We roam at large.’ While the precise force of the verb is unclear, its general sense that Judah wishes to be free from constraint and to wander (probably aimlessly, given the context) is apparent.

(12) McKane (1986: 52).

(13) Such readings frequently follow Gunkel's form‐critical work on prophetic lawsuits, which suggests that this language derives from legal practice. Cf. Gunkel's introduction to Schmidt (1923: p. lxiii). Würthwein (1952) and Hesse (1953) alternatively propose a cultic origin. Huffmon's (1959) suggestion that the ריב‎ motif emerged from international relations has proved particularly popular. Cf. Harvey (1962), Limburg (1969), Westermann (1967: 199–200).

(14) Jones (1992: 80). Cf. Brueggemann (1998: 34), Abma (1999: 247), Diamond and O'Connor (1996: 303).

(15) Holladay (1986: 73). Cf. Bright (1965: 16).

(16) Carroll (1986: 117). Carroll even renders ריב‎ as ‘squabbling’, within the context of a family (p. 123).

(17) DeRoche (1983c: 568, cf. pp. 563–74) insists, ‘The word rîb does not in itself indicate a judicial process. It is a more general term indicating only that one party has a grievance against another. It does not indicate the process by which the grievance is solved.’

(18) DeRoche (1983c: 570, emphasis mine).

(19) Daniels (1987) argues that we should not even conceive of the ‘rîb‐oracles’ as a ‘special group’ or a ‘separate genre’ (p. 340). Cf. Lundbom (1999: 257–8).

(20) Contra Holladay (1986: 73), who curiously claims, ‘Rhetorical questions directed to the defendant were part of ordinary rhetoric in legal procedure (Judg 8: 2, 11: 12, 25) and may have been characteristic of a “pre‐trial encounter”.’ Cf. Westermann (1967: 112–15). This seems to depend on the similarly questionable assumption that Judges 8 and 11 speak of a lawsuit. Cf. DeRoche (1983c: 568).

(21) Abrams (1993: 271).

(22) Labuschagne (1966: 23). Shields (2004: 38) observes that rhetorical questions ‘draw the audience/reader into dialogue’.

(23) Barton (1990: 61). The ‘tit for tat’ device itself features in Jer 2: 1–4: 4, although less prominently than in Hosea 4–14. For instance, רעה‎ (‘evil/misfortune’) is used both to describe the people's ‘wickedness/evil’ (2: 3, 13, 19; 3: 2, 5) and the ‘misfortune/evil’ that will therefore befall them (2: 27, 28). Cf. Weems (1995: 56): ‘The prophet constructed his rhetoric not only to draw a direct parallel between the woman's sin (shameless, loose behaviour) and her punishment (exposed and shamed) but to insist that her punishment was reasonable and inescapable.’

(24) Brueggemann (1973: 358), Lundbom (1999: 131). Cf. Holladay (1986: 93).

(25) Lundbom (1999: 131).

(26) Brueggemann (1973: 361).

(27) Cf. Long (1976: 387): ‘The rhetorical questions are not didactic. They do not instruct. They rather lay a rhetorical basis for indictment.’

(28) Lundbom (1999: 275): ‘This oracle highlights the folly of forsaking Yahweh.’

(29) Cf. 2 Kings 17: 15.

(30) Holladay (1986: 85) interestingly resists this rhetorical question to propose: ‘Though the question is rhetorical, the fact that Jrm perceives Yahweh to be raising it at all suggests a kind of capacity of kenosis…on God's part, a (theoretical) willingness to admit fault.’ As we will see, the answers to Jer 2: 1–4: 4's rhetorical questions are not always as straightforward as the poetry implies.

(31) Bright (1965: 15). Cf. Lundbom (1999: 259), Carroll (1986: 123–4), Holladay (1986: 86). Cf. the similar word‐play on ‘Baal’ in 2: 11.

(32) We might read a word‐play on חרב‎ (‘dry’/‘desolate’) here. While the sense of ‘desolate’ is encouraged by the parallel שׁמם‎ (‘horrified’), חרב‎ may also echo a call to the heavens to give no water, so that the absurdity of Judah's rejection of ‘living water’ in a time of drought will be exposed. Lundbom (1999: 267): ‘Perhaps the heavens are expected to be so shocked at Israel's apostasy that they will not give rain.’ Holladay (1986: 91): ‘[T]he idea of “drought” leads in the direction of the dry land implied in v 13.… The heavens are to be dry, since the people have made themselves dry.’

(33) Domeris (1999: 256): ‘The people are accused of forsaking fountains of living water for broken cisterns (2: 10–13), an act which no one in their right mind would undertake.’

(34) שׁחר‎ refers to the Nile in Isa 23: 3. נהר‎ (‘the River’) is the Euphrates in Isa 8: 7: Lundbom (1999: 273).

(35) Holladay (1986: 92–3): ‘rarely has an ethical dative…carried so much irony—they dig the cisterns for themselves and for their own benefit, while the spring which they abandoned produces water of itself.… And the ultimate irony is that Yahweh took the people through the (dry) desert and brought them into the garden land, only to see them digging away foolishly in an enterprise that will only lead to dryness once more.’

(36) Shields (2004: 12).

(37) Bauer (1999b: 37) speaks of ‘the audience being overwhelmed by rhetorical question after rhetorical question’. Cf. Weems (1995: 53).

(38) Reading with MT ‘its glory’ (כבודו‎). There has been some suggestion that 2: 11 should read ‘my glory’ (כבודי‎), having been emended by scribes because the idea that YHWH's glory might be exchanged was offensive. Cf. Bright (1965: 15), Abma (1999: 223), Carroll (1986: 125–6). Holladay (1986: 50) and Lundbom (1999: 267) provide a discussion and defence of MT.

(39) Bright (1965: 15), Lundbom (1999: 262), Holladay (1986: 89).

(40) McKane (1986: 34). Shields (2004: 12): ‘The implication is that it is unnatural and absurd to worship these gods “that are not gods”, for such “gods” have no power.’

(41) Carroll (1986: 126). Leslie (1954: 28) observes: ‘Jeremiah here tacitly ignores the well‐known syncretism in the religions of pagan nations wherein local deities from one country are absorbed into the pantheon of another.’ Nevertheless, he succumbs to the poetry's persuasive force: ‘Still he was basically right, for when such nations exchanged their national gods for others, or worshipped the latter alongside the former, it was no real exchange, because they were kindred nature deities, and accordingly, from Jeremiah's viewpoint, unprofitable, powerless nonentities.’

(42) Carroll (1986: 127).

(43) Holladay (1986: 90).

(44) Holladay (1986: 91).

(45) Another demonstration of Jer 2: 1–4: 4's forceful influence can be witnessed in the tendency of commentators to mimic its characteristic style. Apparently rhetorical questions are contagious! Cf. McKane (1986: 43), Lundbom (1999: 268), Jones (1992: 87), Holladay (1986: 101, 113), Bright (1965: 23).

(46) Shields (2004: 9) speaks of Jeremiah 2's ‘argument from absurdity’. Domeris (1999: 253–6) explores the way in which ‘antilanguage’, including ridicule, sarcasm, and parody, pervades Jeremiah.

(47) Brueggemann (1998: 48): ‘Through her own stupid actions, Judah is rejected. Her life, apart from the intervention of Yahweh as her advocate, is in profound jeopardy.’ Holladay (1986: 95): ‘The point of the question here is: Do not blame others for these events, you only have yourself to blame; it is your abandonment of Yahweh that has caused all your trouble.’

(48) K. M. O'Connor (1992: 171). Weider (1993) devotes a monograph to the exploration of Hosea 1–3's influence on Jeremiah. Schulz‐Rauch (1996) understands Jeremiah to be reliant on Hosea, but is keen to stress that the imagery within Jeremiah itself has a distinctive character (p. 54). Cf. Diamond and O'Connor (1996: 307): ‘Jeremiah reads an old metaphor and writes a new narrative.’

(49) Galambush (1992: 53, 57). Dille (2004: 156): ‘As in Hosea, Jeremiah's characterization of YHWH as husband is that of a wronged husband who seeks his wife's repentance and subsequent reconciliation.’

(50) Clements (1988: 87). Cf. Jones (1992: 82), Driver (1906: 6). Rooke (2000: 35): ‘This is perhaps the least coherent of the major occurrences of the metaphor.’

(51) Leslie (1954: 35; cf. p. 25). Cf. Lundbom (1999: 301).

(52) Stienstra (1993: 165). Cf. Holladay (1986: 123).

(53) There is some awareness of this. Bons (1999: 213) witnesses to the ‘creativity’ of Jeremiah 2–3, while exploring the resonances with Hosea (pp. 212–17); and, in discussing ‘the female metaphor’, Turner (2003: 194–5) describes how the prophet Jeremiah ‘creatively expands its potential. The multivalent dimensions of the metaphor are explored.’

(54) Boadt (1982: 27).

(55) Leslie (1954: 33). Cf. Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard (1991: 41).

(56) Holladay (1986: 109). Cf. Lundbom (1999: 292), McKane (1986: 53).

(57) Barton (1990: 59).

(58) K. M. O'Connor (1999a: 283). Carroll (1986: 151) suggests ‘husband’, but in his commentary speaks of ‘a husband‐lover’ (p. 153). Lundbom (1999: 318) admits that the most likely translation is ‘companion’, but assumes, ‘Here the “companion” is in all probability the woman's husband.’

(59) Untermann (1987: 24, 28). K. M. O'Connor (1999a: 283).

(60) Jones (1992: 104).

(61) Cf. Driver (1906: 18), Bright (1965: 20), Shields (1995: 70; 2004: 120). It is unlikely that the lovers are married in the Song, as they continually seek each other (3: 1–5, 5: 2–8, 6: 1) and the male is described as ‘peeping’ through a window to catch a glimpse of his lover (2: 9). Most strikingly in 8: 1 the female expresses a wish for her lover to be ‘like a brother’, so that ‘if I met you outside I could kiss you and they would not despise me’. Cf. Fox (1985: 231–2), Bloch and Bloch (1995: 3), Exum (2005: 79).

(62) McKane (1986: 79). Cf. Ehrlich (1912: 247), Leslie (1954: 37).

(63) Shields (1995: 70): ‘The various English translations of v. 20 obscure the continuing reference to Israel as daughter by translating îššâ as “wife” rather than “woman” and mērē‘âh as “husband” rather than the more usual “companion” or “friend”, which also indicates close association, and in the case of r‘h III, an object of desire.’ Cf. Peake (1910: 113).

(64) Carroll (1986: 153): ‘Yahweh displays the frenetic outrage of a man betrayed by his woman.’

(65) Contra Galambush (1992: 57), who describes 3: 20 as a ‘simple explication’ of ‘the marriage metaphor’. K. M. O'Connor (1999b: 389) refers to Jer 2: 1–4: 2 as ‘a metaphorical and narrative drama of the broken family’, where YHWH features as ‘broken‐hearted and abandoned spouse, dumbstruck and enraged by the collapse of a relationship in which he thinks he has done everything possible to make the marriage flourish’.

(66) Fox (2000: 120): ‘the intimacy implied by rēa‘ in the first line is raised to a higher degree by 'allûp in the second: don't trust even your 'allûp, your best friend.’

(67) Fox (2000: 120).

(68) Murphy (1998: 124).

(69) Whybray (1994: 256). Murphy (1998: 126) translates ‘companion’, and refers to ‘the amicable relationship’ (p. 129).

(70) Cf. Jer 3: 19 where DeRoche (1983a: 371) translates אבי‎ as ‘my husband’, following HALOT i. 1, whose translation is itself based solely on Jer 3: 19 with no further explanation. De Roche also cites ‘a similar usage in certain dialects of classical Arabic’ (p. 371). In his arguments, DeRoche is strongly influenced by ‘the marriage metaphor’, which he believes ‘serves as a powerful tool in picturing Israel's past and present relationships with Yahweh’ (p. 375).

(71) Galambush (1992: 56).

(72) Galambush (1992: 56).

(73) Shields (2004: 44).

(74) Shields (2004: 44). ‘The marriage metaphor’ exerts a strong influence on Shields. In her introduction, she writes: ‘The combined picture the imagery of Jeremiah 2 presents is that of God, as the husband of Israel, competing against rivals for his wife's allegiance’ (p. 11). She continues, ‘The metaphors themselves set up the marital imagery through which Israel's relationship to YHWH will be played out in much of ch. 3’ (p. 16). Shields calls attention to the movement away from such ‘marital imagery’ at the end of Jer 3: 1–4: 4 towards the language of ‘father‐daughter’. For her, the allusion to YHWH as ‘my father’ in 3: 4 is ‘proleptic’, creating ‘a slippage between the husband‐wife metaphor, which dominates vv. 1–5, and a father‐daughter metaphor, which is introduced in 3: 19’ (p. 44).

(75) McKane (1986: 61–2). Cf. Jones (1992: 98). Bauer (1999b: 55) alludes to the ‘husband/father’.

(76) Holladay (1986: 115).

(77) Brueggemann (1998: 35).

(78) Holladay (1986: 85, cf. p. 92). Cf. Jones (1992: 88). K. M. O'Connor's reading of Jeremiah (1999a) is strongly influenced by what she calls ‘the broken household metaphor’. She even finds echoes of this metaphor within Jer 4: 5–6: 30's ‘battle poems’ (p. 282): ‘The portrait of God in these poems is primarily that of military general, but even while orchestrating the battle, God's speech betrays the anger and grief of the abandoned husband’ (p. 284).

(79) Cf. Leick (1994: 147), who notes a similar phenomenon in Assyriology: ‘The persistent obsession of Assyriologists with the Sacred Marriage meant that practically every text with a sexual content was considered to refer to the goddess' wedding. This overemphasis of a marital context needs to be redressed.’

(80) Abma (1999: 215): ‘The marriage imagery in Jeremiah 2–4: 4 is by far not as sustained as in Hosea 1–3 but comes to the fore in an impressionistic fashion.’ Galambush (1992: 53): ‘Jeremiah uses the image of Jerusalem as Yahweh's wife often, but not in a sustained way.… An address may begin by depicting the city as a woman and conclude depicting her as a camel (2: 23–24).’ Contra Zipor (1995: 90): ‘As in Hosea the first prophecies of Jeremiah contain a retrospective of a ruined marriage (chs. 2–3). Many of the sequences of metaphors are related explicitly or implicitly to the cycle of “Scenes from a Marriage”.… In this chapter we have the phenomenon of a metaphor within a metaphor: the prophet is speaking of the unfaithful with metaphors (an untamed animal, a restive camel), and appears to forget that the hated‐beloved woman, with whom he is settling accounts, does not really exist and is only a metaphor.’

(81) Cf. Diamond and O'Connor (1996: 291), who understand ‘the broken marriage metaphor’ in Jeremiah 2–3 to be a ‘root metaphor’, ‘engendering and organizing a network’. Baumann (2003: 106) refers to ‘the narrative of YHWH's “love” story in Jeremiah’.

(82) BDB 483 suggests ‘thy betrothal’ for כלולתיך‎. McKane (1986: 27): ‘There is no use of כלה‎ in Biblical Hebrew which requires the sense “betrothed”, and a narrower sense of the word is “a young girl on her wedding day”, “a bride” ’, suggesting ‘bridal days’. Cf. Bright (1965: 9). HALOT ii. 477–8 suggests ‘bride’, ‘daughter in law, or even ‘newly married woman’, depending on the context. DCH iv. 419 suggests ‘daughter‐in‐law’, ‘bride’, or ‘young wife’.

(83) Stienstra (1993: 162–3).

(84) Thompson (1980: 163). Cf. Holladay (1986: 83), Galambush (1992: 53–4), Jones (1992: 82).

(85) Carroll (1986: 119). Cf. Abma (1999: 214): ‘This positive image of the close bonds between Yhwh and Israel, fresh as in a honeymoon period, functions as a motto for the subsequent controversy concerning the disloyalty of Israel.’ Jones (1992: 82–3): ‘All the greater her fall from grace.’ Weems (1995: 54): ‘The prophet's oracles deliberately open with this imagery of Israel's former devotion so as to set in his audience's mind the criteria by which Israel's present behaviour would be gauged.’ Bauer (1999a: 299): ‘Israel as the loving bride of cherished memory…provides background contrast for the present picture of Israel as prostrate and promiscuous woman.’

(86) Cf. Bauer (1999b: 22): ‘while functioning as a climax for happy memories, this “going after” (לכתך אחרי‎) already foreshadows the change to come. By the same vocabulary, Israel will be accused of going after her lovers, idols, other gods, or acting promiscuously, of committing adultery.’ She explains: ‘the image of Israel as the loving bride of cherished memory provides continuity while building up to the discontinuity in preparation for the accusations to come.’

(87) Shields (2004: 13) argues that Jeremiah 2's gendered imagery as well as its metaphorical language seek to ‘portray the people's behavior as offending the natural order’. Shields understands the language of ‘overstepped’ boundaries to pervade 2: 1–4: 4 (pp. 13–14).

(88) Cf. Shields (1995: 67 n. 13): ‘The alternation of masculine and feminine forms of address signifies that the metaphors do not refer literally to sexual cultic practice, but rather that promiscuity is a general metaphor for non‐allegiance to YHWH.’

(89) Reading K, אעבד‎ (‘I will not serve’), rather than Q, אעבור‎ (‘I will not transgress’). Cf. Holladay (1986: 52–3), McKane (1986: 40).

(90) Reading רענן‎ as ‘luxuriant’ rather than ‘evergreen’. Cf. Winton Thomas (1967).

(91) צעה‎ is used to ‘tilt’ a vessel in Jer 48: 12, to ‘stoop’ under a burden in Isa 51: 14, and perhaps to ‘bend forward/backward’ in power in Isa 63: 1 (although here צעה‎ is often emended to צעד‎, ‘marching’). Cf. BDB 858. HALOT iii. 1040–1 elsewhere suggests ‘fettered’ (Isa 51: 14) or ‘to tilt (wine vessels), be a cellarman’ (Jer 48: 12, Isa 63: 1) for צעה‎, but in Jer 2: 20 proposes ‘to spread oneself, lie down’. To ‘bow’ or ‘bend’, capturing the essence of ‘tilting’, seems an appropriate translation here in 2: 20.

(92) Cf. Holladay (1986: 53): ‘There you are sprawling, whoring.’

(93) McKane (1986: 41).

(94) Lundbom (1999: 277). Cf. Chapman (2004: 121): ‘bent over as a whore’.

(95) Jones (1992: 89). Cf. DeRoche (1983a: 370).

(96) Galambush (1992: 55).

(97) K. M. O'Connor (1992: 170) finds ‘the marriage metaphor’ in 2: 20: ‘Though the word translated “whore” (2: 20) probably refers to a promiscuous unmarried woman, the broken bridal relation of 2: 1–3 indicates that adultery is the woman's sin. The former bride has now broken free of her covenant relationship.’ Cf. Dille (2004: 155): ‘These verses do not explicitly describe YHWH as a husband, but the language of marital infidelity implicitly depicts YHWH as the husband of an unfaithful wife.’ Such readings are highly unusual, however. Most are content to reflect on the possibilities of ‘cultic prostitution’. Even Stienstra (1993: 163) agrees that the metaphorical language of 2: 20 is not related to ‘the marriage metaphor’: ‘We have grown used to the idea that whenever Jerusalem or Israel is compared to a harlot, we must be dealing with an instance of the marriage metaphor, but this need not necessarily be true.’ Cf. Abma (1999: 240): ‘The elements of “impermissible and outrageous behaviour” and “idolatry” stand in the foreground. Although the word “harlotry” certainly indicates that the relationship between Yhwh and Israel is undermined through the conduct labelled as “harlotry”, the notion of an existing marriage relationship does not seem to be presupposed in Jeremiah 2: 20.’

(98) Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard (1991: 37). Cf. Leslie (1954: 31) and Holladay (1986: 98).

(99) This translation of 2: 20 presupposes that שׁברתי‎ and נתקתי‎ are archaic second feminine singular verbs, following LXX. Cf. Holladay (1986: 52), Carroll (1986: 130), Lundbom (1999: 275). These verbs can also be read as first person forms, however: ‘Long ago I (YHWH) broke your yoke,| I tore your cords,| And you said, I will not serve…’ Cf. Abma (1999: 224). In my view, the translation in the main text seems more likely. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that the absurdity of Judah is still highlighted in 2: 20 even if the verbs are understood to be first person. The verse would then suggest that Judah has determined never to serve again in response to the freedom YHWH has given her, but is now inexplicably ‘prostituting’ and ‘serving’ this way. Either way, her actions are ridiculous.

(100) Cf. Isa 48: 4, Ezek 3: 7–9. Lundbom (1999: 302): ‘Here is the stubborn whore who refuses to be humiliated or to exhibit shame.’ Jones (1992: 98): ‘This is an allusion to the resolute obstinacy that appears on the face of those who habitually defy the standards of society. There is no pretence of fidelity, only shame.’ Contra Kruger (1983: 109 n. 10): ‘This phrase is not a figurative description of the wife's unabashment and stubbornness…but refers to something visible on her face testifying to her licentiousness.’ Holladay (1986: 115): ‘It is possible that it refers to some kind of phylactery worn by a prostitute.’

(101) Shields (2004: 57).

(102) Bauer (1999b: 53).

(103) Ortlund (1996: 92) alludes to her ‘impertinent wilfulness’: ‘She has lost the capacity to reflect, to respond, or even to care.’

(104) The introductory לאמר‎ (‘Saying’) is difficult, but may refer back to 2: 1, ‘The word of YHWH came to me, saying’ Cf. Abma (1999: 229). הן‎ can mean ‘if’ when introducing a hypothetical situation (cf. Hag 2: 12).

(105) Holladay (1986: 113) provocatively suggests that ‘the meaning of the verb here suggests a kind of humbling action on Yahweh's part, as if Israel is the stable one and Yahweh contemplates moving back to her’. The wider context of Jer 2: 1–4: 4 unfortunately militates against such an understanding of Judah as ‘stable’, however.

(106) Galambush (1992: 56), Brueggemann (1988: 39–41), Hobbs (1974), Long (1976), and Fishbane (1985: 307–12), believe that 3: 1 refers to a law preserved in Deut 24: 1–4. Holladay (1986: 112): ‘Since Hosea 2 also presupposes the Deuteronomy passage (see Hos 2: 9), Jrm is doubtless stimulated by both here.’ Westbrook (1986) questions connections to Deut 24: 1–4, suggesting a financial reason for this prohibition. Martin (1969) provides a detailed discussion, concluding that whether Jeremiah is dependent specifically on the Deuteronomy passage or on an older tradition ‘must remain an open question’ (p. 90). Shields (2004: 24–5) assumes ‘a shared tradition as the background to both’, providing an intriguing reading of Deut 24: 1–4 as an intertext with Jer 3: 1–5.

(107) Shields (2004: 38): ‘The question draws forth the expected response, “Of course the husband may not return to the wife again; of course the land would be defiled”. ’

(108) Lundbom (1999: 301): ‘The pronoun repeats for emphasis.’

(109) Holladay (1986: 113).

(110) Lundbom (1999: 301, emphasis original). Cf. van den Eynde (2001: 92). Lundbom cites Jer 12: 5, 25: 29, and 49: 12 as other instances of such an argument.

(111) Fishbane (1985: 310). He explains: ‘while, on the one hand, it would appear that both interpretive possibilities are made superfluous by the Pentateuchal legal analogy, which prohibits the return of a wife who has married another man, the law has its source in the same god who repeatedly advocates the repentance of Israel elsewhere in the Book of Jeremiah’ (1985: 310).

(112) Shields (2004: 42–3). Cf. Bauer (1999b: 48–9), who suggests that the gender dynamics of 3: 1–5 also promote ambiguity as it becomes unclear whether the male or the female must return: ‘Who is returning to whom?’, she asks (p. 49), noting that LXX understands Judah to do the returning.

(113) Shields (2004: 93).

(114) Abma (1999: 248).

(115) Abma (1999: 248–9). Cf. Baumann (2003: 109), who echoes, ‘This expresses the impossibility of a second chance for the marriage between YHWH and Israel after a divorce has been completed,’ continuing, ‘at any rate if this marriage has to be subject to the rules for human marriages. Despite the behavior of the “wife,” in 3: 7 YHWH hopes for her return…for the moment the consequences remain uncertain in the text.’

(116) Lundbom (1999: 301–2). Lundbom illustrates here how the assumption that Jeremiah must follow the ‘story’ of ‘the marriage metaphor’ can create problems, commenting, ‘The issue is complicated, because it is not clear that Yahweh ever divorced Israel, even though a threat of divorce was made (cf. Isa 50: 1).’

(117) Cf. the later discussion of Isa 50: 1. In this sense, we could say that rhetorical questions are comparable to metaphor, which also lack a formal marker. Fishbane (1985: 310): ‘There are no contextual reasons to prefer one to construe it as a question rather than a declaration. Each seems equally apropos.’

(118) Cf. Long (1976: 386): ‘ “didactic question” is hardly an apt description for v. 2–5, which develop invective and accusation, ending with a final, abrupt charge, full of sarcasm and disgust.’

(119) McKane (1986: 63).

(120) Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard (1991: 64).

(121) Cf. Weems (1995: 53): ‘Jeremiah piled sexual image upon image and punctuated his message with rhetorical questions which may have been the poet's way of attempting to overwhelm the senses of his audiences.’

(122) Reading Q, פרא .נפשׁה‎, here פרה‎, ‘ass’, is usually masculine in the Hebrew Bible, and this might account for the confusion in gender. Cf. Holladay (1986: 53). נפשׁ‎ has the sense of ‘desire’ elsewhere (cf. Deut 18: 6; 1 Sam 23: 20; Song 1: 7, 3: 1–4, 6: 12).

(123) תאנתה‎ is unique, but most agree that it means ‘her season (of heat)’. Cf. Lundbom (1999: 282).

(124) Brenner (1993: 182–3): ‘The animalization of the metaphorized woman‐in‐the‐text is…an innovation, an original contribution to biblical pornographic lore.’ Cf. Ezek 23: 20, Jer 5: 8.

(125) Brenner (1993: 192).

(126) Brenner (1993: 183).

(127) Exum (1996: 107). Cf. n. 10.

(128) K. M. O'Connor (1992: 170). Cf. Bauer (1999b: 33): ‘The choice of imagery serves a purpose.… Women have often been portrayed as unable to control their sexual impulses.… Thus, this depiction of female sexuality here as uncontrolled and uncontrollable serves the purpose of assigning responsibility for the indictment to follow.’

(129) Holladay (1986: 102): ‘An animal caught by the instinct of mating is helpless, but Israel should not have become prey simply to her blind instinct to rebel.’

(130) Cf. Holladay (1986: 114), who (fascinated by Hosea 1–3's influence on Jer 2: 1–4: 4) writes: ‘is there an ironic echo here of ישׁב ל‎ “sit for, stay at home for” in Hos 3: 3? One has the impression that the Hosea passage implies that Gomer must sit rather than lie with Hosea; here, by contrast, Israel is depicted as sitting waiting for partners to lie with.’

(131) Lundbom (1999: 302), Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard (1991: 49). Cf. Abma (1999: 229), Carroll (1986: 140), Jones (1992: 97), Weems (1995: 55).

(132) McKane (1986: 58). Unfortunately, McKane does not give his reasons for this translation, although it may be influenced by his understanding of the following poetic line. He writes: ‘Israel is a prostitute who sits at the roadside touting for custom and she is likened to the Bedouin who sit at the edge of the road soliciting trade’ (p. 60). Cf. the Douay‐Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible: ‘Where thou hast not prostituted thyself.’

(133) Leslie (1954: 36). Cf. BDB 993: ‘Where hast thou not been ravished?’

(134) Leslie (1954: 35).

(135) Chapman (2004: 122, emphasis original), although she continues: ‘It is difficult to know from our historical distance whether the English profanity “fucked” captures the essence of the Hebrew or goes beyond what Jeremiah might have said.’

(136) Gravett (2004: 289).

(137) Holladay (1986: 114). HALOT iv. 1415 suggests ‘be raped’ for the Niphal form of שׁגל‎ in Isa 13: 16, although for the Pual (or passive Qal form) of שׁגל‎ in Jer 3: 2, the dictionary suggests ‘to be ravished’.

(138) Bauer (1999b: 50). She suggests the translation ‘raped’. Cf. Baumann (2003: 107–8, esp. n. 10; 117). Even Gravett (2004: 289), who does not agree that שׁגל‎ should be translated as ‘raped’ in Jer 3: 2, admits that this is the only instance within her understanding of the Hebrew Bible where ‘this word not raise the spectre of sexual violence’.

(139) Bauer (1999b: 51) insists, ‘In all cases the context is one of sexual violence. Woman is violated.’

(140) The noun שׁגל‎ appears twice in the Hebrew Bible, in Neh 2: 6 and Ps 45: 10, alluding to the consort/queen of a king. At first sight, this may seem to sit uneasily with our argument. It is likely, however, that this term is unrelated to the Hebrew שׁגל‎. HALOT iv. 1415 notes that the noun is a loan‐word from the Akkadian ša ekalli. Cf. Mankowski (2000: 137–8), Parpola (1988). With thanks to Prof. Kevin J. Cathcart for his assistance in this matter.

(141) Baumann (2003: 117): ‘The corresponding verb שׁגל‎ is in the pu'al and thus gives no indication of who the rapist is.’ She suggests, however, that it may be the ‘lovers/boyfriends' of 3: 1, even though this allusion is from within the prose passage.’

(142) Holladay (1986: 112): ‘Does Jrm imply that Egypt will rape Israel as Amnon took advantage of Tamar?’

(143) Bauer (1999b: 51).

(144) Contra Shields (2004: 53): ‘Israel's behavior is pictured as predatory, targeting and accosting anyone who passes.’

(145) Brueggemann (1988: 32) summarizes Jereniah 2 as ‘an assault on Judah's imagination, requiring Judah to see its actual situation differently, to understand the causes of that situation and its inevitable outcome’.

(146) Many understand Judah's ‘prostitution’ in 3: 2 to be an allusion to ‘cultic prostitution’ rather than a metaphorical allusion to political alliances. This is partly due to the reference to שׁפים‎ (‘bare places’). Cf. Bauer (1999b: 50). The meaning of שׁפים‎ (and its Ugaritic cognate špm), however, is debated. McKane (1981b) provides a detailed discussion, concluding that the traditional translation, ‘high places’, is probably inaccurate, arguing that ‘open country’ or ‘countryside’ is more likely. Nevertheless, he maintains elsewhere (1986: 59): ‘They are the high places, which are centres of idolatrous worship.’ Lundbom (1999: 302) similarly admits, ‘These are bare, treeless hills used as lookout points’, while continuing to claim, ‘They are likely the “high hills” of 2: 20, where Canaanite fertility worship was going on.’ Cf. Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard (1991: 49). The translation ‘high hills’ is perhaps itself influenced by the command שׂאי־עיניך‎ (‘lift your eyes’). Yet the phrase does not necessarily mean that Judah is commanded to look upwards, as is often assumed. In Isa 49: 18, it appears to mean ‘Pay attention!’ and may even have the sense of ‘Stop looking down!’ (i.e. ‘Stop being so self‐involved’!). The latter would certainly suit the wider context of Jer 2: 1–4: 4, underscoring Judah's lack of awareness of what is going on around her. There remains some question as to whether 3: 2 is concerned with cultic or political matters. Some prefer a cultic reading of the passage, while avoiding assumptions about ‘cultic prostitution’. Cf. van den Eynde (2001: esp. p.96). Others combine a cultic reading with a political reading. Cf. Carroll (1986: 142). My main concern is that we do not simply assume that the land can only be ‘polluted’ by the cult. Contra Galambush (1992: 84): ‘The verb znh seems to be used in Jeremiah exclusively of infidelity with idols.’ It seems to me that this particular passage is concerned, at least in part, with critiquing unacceptable political alliances, as elsewhere in Jer 2: 1–4: 4 (2: 18, 36–7). Cf. Holladay (1986: 114).

(147) Jer 3: 15–18 and 3: 24–5 are also prose passages within 2: 1–4: 4, but will not feature in this discussion due to their lack of sexual and marital metaphorical language.

(148) Cf. Thiel (1973, 1981) and Weippert (1973). Holladay (1986: 81): ‘These verses are very late: the passage shares no characteristic with the conventional prose of Jer except for the short phrase “with all her heart”.… Its point of view contrasts with that of the Deuteronomistic historian.’ Carroll (1986: 145): ‘Its place here may be due to a Deuteronomistic editor (Hyatt, Holladay, Thiel), though there is little evidence of Deuteronomistic clichés in the passage.’

(149) Schmitt (1996: 101) argues that ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’ are insertions, hoping to maintain cities alone as the ‘wives’ of YHWH, and Israel as masculine. To restrict metaphorical language to these preconceived understandings seems inappropriate and unnecessary.

(150) Cf. McKane (1986: esp. pp. l–liii). Galambush (1992: 56) notes that these verses ‘paint a vignette that is related to but distinct from the foregoing personifications of Jerusalem’. Cf. Jones (1992: 99): ‘[T]he passage is woven subtly into the theme of the chapter as a whole.’ Shields (1995: 68 n. 16) insists that these verses are ‘an extension and interpretation of vv. 1–5’, which should not be assumed to be the work of a different author.

(151) McKane (1981a), Kaufman (1987). Biddle (1990: 93–7) provides a thorough redaction history of 3: 6–11.

(152) Bauer (1999b: 56–7): ‘Different in style and language from the preceding section, the structure of the poetic prose passage provides continuity in vocabulary and imagery.’ McKane (1986: 68): ‘Whoever composed vv. 6–11 borrowed his ideas and quarried his vocabulary from surrounding passages.’ Cf. Thiel (1973: 88), Lundbom (1999: 306), Holladay (1986: 116).

(153) Reading K, ילדתני‎.

(154) Bright (1965: pp. lv–lxxxv, esp. pp. lxx–lxxiii; 1951; 1955) maintains a Jeremian authorship in the tradition of older scholarship. Cf. Cornill (1905), Giesebrecht (1907).

(155) Carroll (1986: 145): ‘Failing to understand that “Israel” in the discourse refers to Judah, the later exegete, influenced by the views behind Ezek. 16: 51–52, offers some thoughts on the relative merits of northern Israel and Judah.’

(156) Note the use of the definite article. Cf. Lundbom (1999: 284–5), who argues that the items are reversed, as the tree (Asherah) brings life as ‘mother’ and the stone is a male fertility symbol as ‘father’. Lundbom insists that ‘the reversal is simply to make them look stupid’ (p. 285). Cf. Domeris (1999: 257): ‘By turning the imagery around, Jeremiah caricatures the worship of the people. They are so stupid that they cannot even discern male from female.’

(157) Cf. Bauer (1999b: 57).

(158) Shields (2004: 88–9) focuses on the relationship between 3: 6–11 and 3: 1–5 as intratexts, highlighting the way in which 3: 6–11 not only ‘absorbs’ the poetic text, but also ‘transforms’ and ‘transgresses it’, with ‘the hint that YHWH would have taken Israel back (v. 7), raising the possibility of return in a way that vv. 1–5 seem to exclude’. Cf. Bauer (1999b: 59): ‘Such promise literally undermines the prohibition of return after divorce invoked earlier (3: 1–5; cf. Deut 24: 1–4).’

(159) Reading a third person feminine singular, whilst MT unexpectedly changes to a second person feminine singular verb. Cf. Holladay (1986: 58).

(160) Cf. BDB 275: ‘1. be or act as a harlot…metaphorically of a land given to harlotry.’ HALOT i. 275 provides as a second definition: ‘to be unfaithful in a relationship with God’. DCH iii. 121: ‘of Israel generally, usu. זנה אַחֲרֵי‎ whore after, i.e. seek for illicit sex, in ref. to worship of foreign gods’.

(161) Cf. Lev 17: 7; Judg 8: 27, 33; 1 Chr 5: 25; 2 Chr 21: 11, 13, etc. This similarity may be of interest to those exploring the possible relationship between Jeremiah's prose passages and Deuteronomistic writings.

(162) Galambush (1992: 37).

(163) Contra Goodfriend (1992a: 85): ‘Adultery is used as a metaphor for apostasy in several prophetic books (Hosea 1–3, Jer 2: 23–25; 3: 1–13, Ezekiel 16; 23).’

(164) Outside 2: 1–4: 4, adultery is referred to as a ‘sin’ in Jeremiah, but these seem to be references to literal adultery, albeit with religious implications (5: 7; 7: 9; 9: 2; 23: 10 14; 29: 23). It is also striking that these references all speak of the activity of men. Cf. Baumann (2003: 116).

(165) Cf. Holladay (1986: 81). McKane (1986: 68–9) highlights the similarities between 3: 6–11 and Ezek 16: 51–2, but the theme of Judah being worse than Israel is also found in Ezekiel 23. Cf. Carroll (1986: 145). Lundbom (1999: 308) perceives affinities with both Ezekiel 16 and 23. Shields (2004: 91) suggests the ‘intertextual play’ between Jeremiah 3: 6–11 and Ezekiel 23 (and 16) as a subject for ‘further study’.

(166) Holladay (1986: 116) and Hyatt (1956: 826) understand Ezekiel 16 and 23 to have influenced Jeremiah 3: 6–11. Some believe the influence to be the other way around. Cf. Galambush (1992: 82), Zimmerli (1979: 482), Bright (1965: 26), Block (1997: 732). For our purposes, the precise nature of the relationship between these texts is of no great concern. However, the combination of Jeremiah 3: 6–11's reliance on the poetry of 2: 1–4: 4 and the similarities between 3: 6–11 and the deathly ‘prostitution’ of texts such as Leviticus suggests that 3: 6–11 could be a late reflection. Moreover, there is nothing within Jeremiah 2: 1–4: 4's poetry to provoke the introduction of Israel to 3: 6–11, whereas the two sisters are prominent throughout Ezekiel 23. There seems to be more evidence to suggest that Jeremiah 3: 6–11 was influenced by a version of Ezekiel 23 that included 23: 36–49, than to suggest that Ezekiel 23: 36–49 drew on this formulaic prose text.

(167) Zimmerli (1979: 336) refers to ‘Hosea's view of history, which undoubtedly through Jeremiah influenced Ezekiel's preaching in chapters 16 and 23’. Cf. p. 482.

(168) Weems (1995: 58).

(169) Stienstra (1993: 170).

(170) Shields (2004: 124–35), following Westermann (1981: 62) speaks of this as a ‘liturgy of repentance’.

(171) Shields (2004: 123).

(172) Shields (2004: 158). She continues, ‘The entire symbolic world of the discourse operates to marginalize women and women's interests. Yet, while there is a way out for men (change of behavior/circumcision of the heart), there is no redeeming escape for women’ (p. 154).

(173) Bauer (1999b: 62): ‘Practically and symbolically, the female is excluded.’

(174) The people's words in 3: 25 echo YHWH's earlier call to Judah to ‘acknowledge her guilt’ in 3: 12–13.

(175) Brenner (1993: 182–4), Exum (1996: 107), K. M. O'Connor (1992: 170), Bauer (1999b: 33). See earlier discussion.

(176) Brenner (1997b: 136–7).

(177) Gravett (2004: 298.) Cf. pp. 298–9. Pressler (1994: esp. 111–12). Others are keen to emphasize the similarities between rape then and now. Bal (1993: 193): ‘Historical differences within the idea—and experience—of rape are important. But these differences remain of the order of the “difference within,” the contradictions and tensions that emerge when, lest the argument become fully relativist and sceptical, historization cannot fully account for experience.’ Cf. Thistlethwaite (1993): ‘Is the Israelite worldview so different after all from modern views of rape in war? It is different, but in more subtle ways than we may suspect at first glance. It is a difference that rape in war is a crime. It is also true that the ancient Israelites knew that rape is not about sex but about control, about power’ (p. 72); ‘the biblical writers do not write of rape as a sexual act: rape is a theft of sexual property. Rape is a serious crime threatening the unity of the whole community, it is not “passion” or “lust.” We learn that though in some ways different, the biblical view is consistent with modern efforts to define rape as assault’ (p. 73).

(178) Washington (1997: 356).

(179) Washington (1997: 356–7). He continues, ‘Popular, legal, and clinical discourses of rape are widely deployed to generate and legitimate violent masculinity and to blame the victims of sexual assault. Biblical scholars often unwittingly reinscribe these norms about gender, domination, and sexual violence.’ Cf. Bauer (1999b: 161): ‘As the reality of rape is denied in translations and interpretations, erasure surrounds the textual witness and the raped women.’

(180) Bauer (1999b: 51).

(181) Carroll (1986: 138): ‘It might be illuminating to have access to the community's account of the matter, but that is not possible because ideology makes all opposition silent.’

(182) Cf. Bauer (1999b: 161): ‘is it too much to hope for that some of these female voices may echo whispers of resistance?’

(183) Shields (2004: 49). Baumann (2003: 126): ‘In all this, as also in Hosea, the woman, or personification of the woman, cannot speak for herself.’

(184) Cf. the people's complaint against YHWH's behaviour in 2: 29 and adamant plea in 2: 31: ‘We are free, we will come to you no more!’

(185) Reading נואשׁ‎ as a Niphal participle with an indefinite subject (‘It is hopeless’). Cf. Jer 18: 12, Isa 57: 10. Judah's לוא‎ (‘No!’) is addressed directly to YHWH, as she rejects his advances. Cf. Judg 12: 5, Hag 2: 12.

(186) Baumann (2003: 125). Cf. Shields (2004: 46–7): ‘YHWH's answer in v.5b…illustrates the manipulative and double‐faced nature of Israel's request.… Thus Israel's words and actions are portrayed as being incongruent and hypothetical.’

(187) Baumann (2003: 125) admits: ‘The text speaks about her from an exclusively male perspective; her own voice, her own will, even as regards her “marriage” to YHWH, is not recorded.’

(188) Diamond and O'Connor (1996: 310): ‘What would happen if female Israel told the story? Would she tell of her husband's verbal abuse, his foolish jealousy, his despicable exaggerations.…What we do know about this metaphorical woman, though, is that she makes a moral and religious choice. She does not return to him despite the safety and social status a return might provide. She refuses to speak the words he demands of her: “Only acknowledge your guilt…” (3: 13). She will not accept blame for the failure of the marriage, and she will not reject the gods and goddesses whom she loves. She accepts the price of her autonomy.’

(189) Carroll (1986: 127).

(190) Carroll (1986: 138). Shields (2004: 166) calls attention to the way in which Jer 3: 1–4:4's imagery of circumcision also ‘itself contains the seeds of its own undermining’: ‘While circumcision symbolically excludes women, there remains a need for women and female‐male sexuality for reproduction. The symbolic system cannot completely dominate or control women's place and reproductive power, however much it may seek to do so.’ Cf. p. 160.